On December 21, 2018, the United States House of Representatives voted to enact H.R. 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017, in a historic win for open government in the United States of America.
The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act (AKA the OPEN Government Data Act) is about to become law as a result. This codifies two canonical principles for democracy in the 21st century:
- public information should be open by default to the public in a machine-readable format, where such publication doesn’t harm privacy or security
- federal agencies should use evidence when they make public policy
For the full backstory on what’s in the bill and how it came to pass, read yesterday’s feature.
It’s worth noting that last minute objection did result in two amendments that the Senate had to act upon. Thankfully, on Saturday, December 22nd, the Senate acted, passing the resolution required to send the bill onwards to the president’s desk.
Here’s what changed: First, the text of Title I was amended so that it only applied to CFO Act agencies, not the Federal Reserve or smaller agencies. Title II (the Open Government Act) still applies to all federal agencies.
Second, there was a carve out in Title I “for data that does not concern monetary policy,” which relates to the Federal Reserve, among others.
While the shift weakened the first title of the bill a bit, this was still a historic moment: Congress has passed a law to make open data part of of the US Code.
While the United States is not the first or even the second democracy to pass an open data law – France and Germany have that distinction – this is a welcome advance, codifying the open government data policies, practices, roles and websites (looking at you, Data.gov) that the federal government had adopted over the past decade.
Open government activists, advocates and champions continue to celebrate, online and off.
Victory! Last night the @DataCoalition got the #OPENGovData Act through the Senate, as part of H.R. 4174. Expected to sail through the House TODAY. Sets a presumption, in law, that govt info ought to be published as #opendata, using data standards. https://t.co/jTdM1rIVTW
— Hudson Hollister (@hudsonhollister) December 20, 2018
#Opendata will soon be the way our government publishes information by default!! What a great day for #opendata #opengov #transparency! This would not have been possible w/o @SpeakerRyan @PattyMurray @SenBrianSchatz @SenSasse @RepDerekKilmer. Thank you! #OPENGovDataAct (HR 4174)
— Data Coalition (@DataCoalition) December 21, 2018
Merry Christmas to me! The U.S. Congress has passed an open data law. pic.twitter.com/tDwo8j8UCB
— Rebecca Williams (@internetrebecca) December 21, 2018
Excited to see the Open Government Data Act pass the House today! H.R. 4174 will enable libraries to provide businesses, researchers and students with valuable data that fuels innovation and economic growth. #OPENGovData #opendata
— Gavin Baker (@OpenGavin) December 21, 2018
“The bipartisan passage of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act is a significant step toward a more efficient, more effective government that uses evidence and data to improve results for the American people,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and co-founder of Results for America, in a statement. “We commend Speaker Ryan, Senator Murray and their bipartisan colleagues in both chambers for advancing legislation that will help build evidence about the federally-funded practices, policies and programs that deliver the best outcomes. By ensuring that each federal agency has an evaluation officer, an evaluation policy and evidence-building plans, we can maximize the impact of public investments.”
“The OPEN Government Data Act will ensure that the federal government releases valuable data sets, follows best practices in data management, and commits to making data available to the public in a non-proprietary and electronic format,” said Daniel Castro, in a statement. “Today’s vote marks a major bipartisan victory for open data. This legislation will generate substantial returns for the public and private sectors alike in the years to come.”
“The passage of the OPEN Government Data Act is a win for the open data community”, said Sarah Joy Hays, Acting Executive Director of the Data Coalition, in a statement. “The Data Coalition has proudly supported this legislation for over three years, along with dozens of other organizations. The bill sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable. Ultimately, it will improve the way our government runs and serves its citizens. This would not have been possible without the support of Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-1-R), Senators Patty Murray (WA-D), Brian Schatz (HI-D), Ben Sasse (NE-R), and Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-6-D). Our Coalition urges the President to promptly sign this open data bill into law.”
Congratulations to everyone who has pushed for this outcome for years.
[Image Credit: Sunlight Foundation]
This post has been updated, and corrected: France was ahead of Germany in enacting an open data law.