By Matt Rumsey, Sunlight Foundation
On Feb. 6, the Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to the Sunlight Foundation explaining how it planned to comply with our FOIA request for Enterprise Data Inventories. These inventories are compiled by 24 federal agencies as part of President Barack Obama’s 2013 open data executive order.
The release, which we believe will represent the largest index of government data in the world, is not just important for open government advocates. It’s important for journalists, researchers and more.
President Obama has made opening government data a priority throughout his term, but has not always been successful in making data easily accessible. The Sunlight Foundation has argued that, for an open data policy to be truly effective, the public must have access to a comprehensive list of government data holdings.
Already, government data sets are regularly used to inform reporting, conduct public oversight, create visualizations, and more. Public access to a proper index of government data will only expand these opportunities.
If the EDIs look how we expect, they should not only list large numbers of government data sets, but also include information that will make this data easier to understand and access. Public data sets will be linked to, and any data that the government chooses to withhold will come with an explanation as to why. In addition, all data will have a human contact point for questions and feedback.
We are particularly interested in seeing these explanations for why government denies access to data sets. Having that information should inform public debate, allow for more targeted FOIA requests, and ultimately result in more data in the hands of journalists, researchers, and other interested parties.
No longer will an interested party have to navigate through the bowels of an agency bureaucracy or send a broad FOIA in the hopes of getting to the data they want. No longer will they look at a piece of government data and have to wonder where to look for more or who to contact if they have questions.
These indexes, if developed and maintained properly by the agencies, will reveal a vast trove of government information to the public. They should empower journalists and researchers to dig ever deeper into the federal government and allow them to uncover stories that were previously uncoverable.
Matt Rumsey is the director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency at the Sunlight Foundation.