A National Data Agency?

Over at Eager Eyes, Robert Kosara has a suggestion for the Obama Administration. He points out that making the government’s raw data available to the public could enhance governmental transparency* and lead to some new ways of looking at the country’s problems.

The challenge is not only data availability. A lot of data is, in fact, available. The US is the most transparent nation in the world – to an extent that can be frightening to an outsider (think pay data for state employees, property tax data, etc.).

The challenge is that a lot of data is published in a format that is human-readable, not machine-readable. This might sound like a good thing, but it’s not. Machine-readable data can be processed and transformed into any number of human-readable forms, that direction is trivial. Making human-readable data accessible to a machine is much more difficult, error-prone, and expensive.

What we need is a National Data Agency (NDA). This agency would be tasked with collecting data that all other agencies collect and produce, and making it available in a central place and in electronic, machine-readable form. There could and should be a reasonable data presentation on its website, perhaps even a National Data Dashboard (showing data of interest like debt, spending, jobless rate, etc.). But the bulk of data analysis would be left to third parties: analysts, journalists, citizens (and also aliens like me). Easily available data would make for more insightful reporting, more informed decisions, and endless business opportunities.

He even has a seal for the NDA already made up. Where do I apply?

* Frankly, I have a feeling we’ll all be very upset once we actually see what’s going on.

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