WASHINGTON –Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) this week cosponsored bipartisan legislation to help federal agencies maintain open access to machine-readable databases and datasets created by taxpayer-funded research. The Preserving Data in Government Act, introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), would require federal agencies to preserve public access to existing open datasets, and prevent the removal of existing datasets without sufficient public notice. Small businesses rely on a range of publicly available machine-readable datasets to launch or grow their companies, and researchers and scientists use data to conduct studies for a variety of fields and industries.
“Taxpayer funded research ought to be available for folks to learn from, especially our students,” Senator Daines stated. “By preserving the work researchers have done, we can ensure that work isn’t duplicated and that it can be used to inform and make government more effective.”
“Public access to taxpayer-funded research is essential for our citizens and our economy,” Senator Hassan said. “People ranging from high-tech entrepreneurs to academic researchers rely on access to machine-readable government data to grow their businesses and help address some of our greatest challenges. This bipartisan bill will help support that progress by ensuring that public data remains accessible to the public.”
Open government data allows businesses and organizations to utilize taxpayer supported resources that help them develop innovative tools and services to address a range of problems facing the United States. For example, a number of startup companies use federal datasets to create products that help farmers, businesses and consumers. FarmLogs, an app created by the Ann Arbor company AgriSight, uses National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data to allow farmers to check how much rainfall different fields receive. Alltuition, a Chicago-based startup, uses the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics to help high school students estimate financial aid and understand the cost of college. These companies, and the customers that they serve, rely on the continued availability and machine-readability of federal datasets.
Though data produced by federal agencies is required to be preserved under the Federal Records Act, there is no requirement to make taxpayer-funded data openly available or machine-readable. Data that is not openly available can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act, but those requests can take years to process and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. The Preserving Data in Government Act will ensure existing government datasets remain openly available and cannot be removed without sufficient public notice.
The bill is supported by a coalition of government transparency and research groups including the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation, the Sunlight Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council.