The Obama administration seems serious about open data. The administration’s recently released budget for fiscal year 2017 highlights the federal government’s commitment to open data, not only for the science community but also for economic development. Specifically, the section titled “Economic Growth: Opening Government-Funded Data and Research to the Public to Spur Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Job Growth” focuses on how federal government investments in making federally funded research and development (R&D) projects accessible to the public will lead to technological innovation, job growth, and industry creation.
In the budget, the administration argues that granting the public access to intellectual property and scientific knowledge leads to innovation. With the open data from government-funded projects, citizens and businesses can build upon pre-existing research, resulting in technological development. The Data.gov website, for example, offers more than 188,000 data sets on topics ranging from healthcare to agriculture. Using this information, external groups have created applications to improve accessibility for people with disabilities and help food truck vendors improve their sales. Currently, the government has already taken the first step in expanding the public’s access to datasets with initiatives like Project Open Data, but the additional investment proposed in the FY2017 budget could allow for further independent research and innovation.
Second, the increased availability and accessibility to open data will create new jobs and industries, according to the FY2017 budget. Moreover, federal R&D data is oftentimes successfully leveraged by academics and entrepreneurs. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has long collaborated with the private sector to conduct experiments on the International Space Station. After NASA granted private researchers access to their findings, the researchers were able to create a whole new industry in small satellites.
In general, the FY2017 budget proposes to invest $152 billion in R&D and, empirically, past investment in R&D has led to major payoffs in the form of job creation and industry growth. For the purpose of disseminating the information from federally funded research to the public domain, the budget aims to spend $8 million on Lab-to-Market programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and $30 million for the National Science Foundation’s public-private Innovation Corps program. Both of these organizations share the common goal of transferring the knowledge and data gained from federally funded R&D projects to the commercial world. Additionally, another $50 million is slated for programs to establish partnerships between academic and federal labs.
The FY2017 budget emphasizes the federal government’s role in disseminating the gains from federal R&D projects to the private sector and independent researchers in order to spark innovation and economic growth. While serious efforts have already been made in this field, the budget highlights the need for greater investment in opening up government-funded data and research to the public.
However, there is still a long way to go before we can fully leverage these vast federal data sets. For starters, while the administration’s effort is laudable, it faces a difficult path: The budget still needs congressional approval, which might not be forthcoming. In fact, for the first time since the 1970s, Congressional Republicans denied the president’s budget director access to the usual hearings to testify in front of the budget committees.
The entire budget can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2017/assets/budget.pdf