04.27.17

Peters, Gardner Introduce Bill to Keep Government Research Data Publicly Available

WASHINGTON, DC –U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) today introduced 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 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.

“Research data that has been collected using taxpayer dollars should be publicly accessible and easily searchable,” said Senator Peters. “Small businesses and individuals rely on federally produced information for everything from long-term planning to innovative product development to help grow their companies and create jobs. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Gardner that will help ensure that taxpayer-funded data remains publicly and openly available for innovators to use as they work to solve our country’s toughest challenges.”

“Once data has been published and made available to the public, it should remain available to the public,” said Senator Gardner. “Whether it’s a technology entrepreneur working on their next innovation or a retailer seeking better weather forecasting to help organize shipments, data is utilized to achieve numerous goals and plays a critical role in improving processes and our daily lives. I’m proud to work with Senator Peters on legislation that ensures government data remains readily accessible in an appropriate manner and that we continue to prioritize government transparency.”

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.

“Government data underpins billions of dollars of economic activity,” said Daniel Castro, Director of the Center for Data Innovation. “This legislation would create baseline standards for ensuring public access to previously-released government data, while giving federal agencies the flexibility they need to efficiently manage information. By establishing these protections for existing data, Congress would provide confidence to businesses and investors that the U.S. government will not arbitrarily or capriciously cut off access to public data. Moreover, this bill will help ensure that taxpayers have unfettered access to the data they have paid for.”

“Democracies depend upon citizens being fully informed about not only how their tax dollars are spent but the performance of government programs and the products created by scientific, regulatory and consumer protections agencies,” said Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation. “In the 21st century, the Internet provides an unprecedented platform to publish government data on all these areas and more, enhancing transparency and accountability. But it's clear that we can't take quality, integrity or openness for granted. At a time when public access to public information online has become shadowed in doubt, this legislation provides a vehicle to preserve and defend the knowledge commons that has grown over the past decades online.”

Scientists, businesses, and local communities need reliable access to federal government data to grow the economy while protecting public health and safety,” said Michael Halpern, Deputy Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This legislation shows that Congress appreciates the vast public benefits that meaningful access to scientific information provides.”