OMB pushes agencies to open up more data to improve programs

Monday - 2/24/2014, 4:43am EST

In its fourth memo in four years, the Obama administration is pushing agencies to stretch their limits around making data more accessible.

The Office of Management and Budget is telling agencies to come up with a plan and oversight process to make administrative information more available internally and externally. The information includes everything from grantees to contractors, to anything that is collected for the purpose of carrying out the basic administration of a program, such as processing benefit applications or tracking services received. These data relate to individuals, businesses and other institutions, OMB said.

"This guidance will help program agencies manage their administrative data with statistical purposes in mind," wrote OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a memo to agency heads on Feb. 14, but was just posted by OMB Friday. "The increased use of administrative data for statistical purposes can generate a range of benefits. Most notably, individuals, businesses, and institutions will benefit through agencies' use of existing information that would otherwise need to be collected from them again through costly and duplicative surveys. Furthermore, agencies will benefit from relying on more consistent policies and tools to create a more routine, efficient and integral role for administrative data in their statistical programs. Finally, the increased use of administrative data will enhance agencies' ability to build evidence on which to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and policies."

In the 38-page memo, OMB detailed six requirements, including the need for agencies with more than 50 full-time employees to submit a report by June 30 on their progress in meeting the mandates.

The report must address the "process by which program and statistical agencies and components are convening to review administrative datasets of potential statistical value, and the identification of the offices or functional areas that are participating in that process."

OMB also will want to know the three datasets that have the highest potential statistical value for the agency or bureau.

"These reports will help OMB to better understand common barriers to administrative data provision for statistical purposes," Burwell wrote. "This understanding will, in turn, inform the need for future guidance, technical assistance, or other support to enhance program and statistical agencies' and components' use of administrative data for statistical purposes toward increased operational efficiency and decreased information collection burden."

This latest memo builds on the 2010 guidance, Sharing Data While Protecting Privacy, and two others from 2013: Open Data Policy-Managing Information as an Asset and Next Steps in the Evidence and Innovation Agenda.

Burwell said the administration's open data policy will help stir innovation in the private sector and help agencies understand how programs need to evolve to better meet the public's needs.

Throughout the most recent guidance, Burwell emphasized the need for agencies to apply the proper privacy and civil liberty protections by identifying and addressing legal and policy barriers in using administrative data for statistical purposes and by involving the agency's general counsel and senior privacy officials from the beginning of the process.

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