OPEN Government Data Act poised to pass Congress as part of NDAA


On Monday, the United States Senate quietly passed the OPEN Government Data Act as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. As the Data Coalition highlighted, the text of  S.760, the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, was one of several amendments to the NDAA that moved. The public can view the final bill text on page 1013 of the Congressional Record online.

Unless something unusual happens, we expect the bill to survive conference committee with the House and go on to the pen of the president. Should that happen, passage of open government data as the default public information disclosure of the United States of America will be the culmination of many years of work by Sunlight and our allies.

“Public data must be public, and it’s the government’s job to make sure that it’s online, easy to find, and easy to use,” said Senator Brian Schatz, ranking Member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, in a statement. “In today’s ever-changing digital world, data should be available to anyone who wants to learn from it and improve the world.”

“For more than a year, I’ve worked with Senator Schatz to drag Washington into the 21st century when it comes to data,” said Senator Ben Sasse, in a statement. “Our OPEN Government Data Act is simple: government data should be made public unless an administration can make a compelling reason to keep it under wraps. This legislation passed the Senate last Congress and, with last night’s passage, I’m glad to carry the momentum forward.”

In governments of, by and for the people, public spaces, buildings and infrastructure belong to the public, maintained and protected on our behalf by civil servants and public officials entrusted with its stewardship.

This is also true of public knowledge, collected and archived in our great public institutions, from universities to libraries to research laboratories. For most of the history of the United States, that knowledge — and its precursors, raw data, structured data and information — has been locked up in paper forms, left buried in file cabinets, and unorganized in servers, tapes, or even underground caverns. In the 21st century, we can and should expect more of our public institutions, providing them with the legal and technical resources to increase the capacity of governments to know themselves, inform the public about the public’s business, and make public information as useful as possible to the people it should serve.

Many thanks to Senators Sasse and Schatz, and Represenatives Derek Killmer and Blake Fahrenthold, who sponsored the House version, for championing open government data.

“We are pushing to the finish line our bill that finally puts public government data in an accessible, easy to find place,” said Rep. Killmer, in a statement. “Making open data standard practice will help innovators create breakthroughs that grow jobs in private industry, improve efficiency in government, and create more transparency for the American public.”

We’re proud that Sunlighters helped draft the original OPEN Government Data Act, and hope that this progress will lift the hearts of advocates clouded by a long year of regression on federal transparency.

This is good news, as Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Coalition, highlighted:

“The OPEN Government Data Act is a comprehensive open data mandate that establishes open and machine-readable data as the benchmark for all federal agency information management,” he said, in a statement.

“This bill will push the whole federal government to modernize, across all its information operations, and it will reinforce the mandate of the DATA Act of 2014 to transform spending information into open data. We applaud Senators Sasse and Schatz for their steadfast bipartisanship leadership.”

No single law will magically unlock all of that knowledge for the benefit of the public nor address the threats to democratic norms in Washington, but passage of the OPEN Government Data Act will enact lock of the core principles and approaches to opening government to the people using the power of the Internet that Sunlight has advocated for since our founding over a decade ago.

Should the bill pass into law, as expected, we look forward to overseeing its implementation and realizing the full promise of its potential for improving the state of our union and the lives of its people.