By Sara Jameson
We recently reported on the Federal CIOs mobile initiatives
Another important priority on Fed CIO Steven VanRoekel's agenda is his initiative to push for more open data and federal content sharing.
Enabling citizens to open and share data from governments across the world is an important way to bring people together to solve common problems. This open data community bridges policy makers, technologists, data owners, and citizens. The initiative aims to get information to people who need to make decisions each day.
VanRoekel was named chief information officer for the U.S. last fall. In this role he oversees the everyday technology needs of all of the federal agenicies while simultaneously addressing issues such as increasing the government’s computing efficiency and web policy.
He also manages and is a major proponent of the government’s push to releasing vast amounts of data on the web.
Vanroekel strives to release raw data or structured APIs to the public as the government has shifted towards more of a publisher role and gatekeeper to troves of aggregated data.
VanRoekel appeared recently at a seminar at Harvard Law School where he spoke about advancing government transparency through data and technology. The centerpiece of the government’s tech transparency push has been Data.gov, the growing repository of federal datasets from departments within the executive branch.
While VanRoekel is proud of the site, he said it needs to transform into a true open data platform, not just a spout people use to access government information. “We have to get out of the data business and into the platform business,” he said.
VanRoekel wishes for the government to be more than just a dumb pipe.
Instead he envisions a system where the government provides a service for citizens and developers to experience data, either through widgets and apps, or through what they create on their own.
The government would be the jumping-off point. VanRoekel sees it as moving away from a kind of distributed presentation of data to a more centralized distribution. That distinction is important, he said, because the sheer volume of datasets across various agencies can be daunting.
“Not only can’t you see the needle in the haystack — you don’t see the haystack,” he said.
Another component would be the ability to track the usage and impact of the data, even using normal web analytics. That’s important, VanRoekel said, because effectiveness is just as important as openness.
VanRoekel is vocal in his support of open data and the use of APIs; during his time as managing director of the FCC. He has previously stated that he believes everything should be an API. How would that work? Well instead of providing access directly to raw data files the government would make it possible to find that data in more functional ways.
One result of the the new open initiatives on the federal level is that news outlets as well as independent developers have been taking advantage of that data either in reporting or consumer facing applications.
Journalism is as much about deciphering the unknown as it is about assembling a narrative from strings of bits and bytes. How does this dynamic change when the government wants to become a content platform? Governments and individual politicians have a long history of taking their message directly to the public, and that’s only increased thanks to the power of the web.
VanRokel’s goal is an optimistic one that shares some common elements with journalism: The desire to use information to help people make sense of things. As bullish as he is on making Data.gov a true platform, the country’s CIO doesn’t think it will supplant or replace the builders who are providing content based on federal data. The things journalists and coders provide is a way of finding relationships in data that make it more applicable to the average person. That’s something the government isn’t good at yet, VanRoekel said. “Information never gets interesting unless you layer it on top of something,” VanRoekel said.
While he’s responsible for initiatve ideas like open data, he also is the person who oversees the government’s procurement and maintenance of peripheral devices such as printers, laptops, and smartphones. Each year the US government spends about $80 billion a year on technology.
Published by myITview.com
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