White House Directive Seeks to Make ‘Open And Machine Readable’ The Default For Government Data

Today the White House released an Executive Order designed to increase the transparency and usability of public government information by making government data open and machine readable by default.

To promote continued job growth, Government efficiency, and the social good that can be gained from opening Government data to the public, the default state of new and modernized Government information resources shall be open and machine readable. Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable. In making this the new default state, executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall ensure that they safeguard individual privacy, confidentiality, and national security.”

The order and accompanying memorandum lay out a new approach to open data that incorporates planning for open data principles in the earliest stages of government projects, requires agencies to index all of their data internally, and requires agencies to publicly report what datasets are already and can be made public under existing law online. The latter requirement will effectively create a digital menu of what information can be requested from which agencies and under what circumstances for the first time — potentially making that information more accessible to journalists, activists, and entrepreneurs.

Similarly, by making data available in machine readable format (read: not PDFs), the order will may make it much easier for those stakeholders to process and analyze large amounts of government information for patterns and connections.

This is not the administration’s first foray into transparency and open government initiatives, issues that featured prominently in President Obama’s 2008 campaign. In December 2009, the White House issued an Open Government Directive similarly aimed at opening access to public government data. However, many groups believe its implementation fell short of expectations.