Playbook For Opening Federal Government Data — How Executive & Legislative Leadership Can Help

Authors: Lacey Strahm & Victoria Houed


Enabling government data to be freely shared and accessed can expedite research and innovation in high-value disciplines, create opportunities for economic development, increase citizen participation in government, and inform decision-making in both public and private sectors. Each day government data remains inaccessible, the public, researchers, and policymakers lose an opportunity to leverage data as a strategic asset to improve social outcomes.

Though federal agencies and policymakers alike support the idea of safely opening their data both to other agencies and to the research community, a substantial fraction of the United States (U.S.) federal government’s safely shareable data is not being shared.

This playbook, compiled based on interviews with current and former government officials, identifies the challenges federal agencies face in 2021 as they work to comply with open data statutes and guidances. More importantly, it offers actionable recommendations for Executive and Congressional leadership to enable federal agencies to prioritize open data.

Paramount among these solutions is the need for the Biden Administration to assign open government data as a 2021 Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). This goal should revitalize the 2018 CAP Goal: Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset to improve upon the 2020 U.S. Federal Data Strategy (FDS) and emphasize that open data is a priority for the U.S. Government. The U.S. Chief Technology Officer (CTO) should direct a Deputy CTO to focus solely on fulfilling this 2021 CAP Goal. This Deputy CTO should be a joint appointment with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Absent elevating open data as a top priority in the President's Agenda, the U.S. risks falling behind internationally. Many nations have surged ahead building smart, prosperous AI-driven societies while the U.S. has failed to unlock its nascent data. If the Biden Administration wants the U.S. to prevail as an international superpower and a global beacon of democracy, it must revitalize its waning open data efforts.

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About the Authors

Lacey Strahm is an Analyst at Plaintext Group, a nonpartisan, technology policy initiative by Schmidt Futures. She works on projects related to strengthening U.S. global leadership through the advancement of technological exploration and scientific discovery. Her writing has been published by The Penn Undergraduate Law Journal and her research has been used to support an industry expert’s publication on digital influence in political elections worldwide. Lacey holds a B.A. in information science with a concentration in American studies from Columbia University.

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Victoria Houed is an Associate at Plaintext Group, a nonpartisan, technology policy initiative by Schmidt Futures. She previously worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a TechCongress Congressional Innovation Fellow supporting the Speaker on all things tech, including broadband, privacy, antitrust, disinformation, and autonomous vehicles. Before her time in Congress, Victoria worked as a Software Engineer at Cards Against Humanity and founded a non-profit for Black Women in Technology called BlackByte. She holds her B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, where she focused on nanotechnology and systems engineering.