Congress passes historic open government data bill

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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:

  1. public information should be open by default to the public in a machine-readable format, where such publication doesn’t harm privacy or security
  2. 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 now Senate has to act upon.

First, the text was amended so that it only applied to CFO Act agencies, not the Federal Reserve or smaller agencies.

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Second, there was a carve out “for data that does not concern monetary policy,” which relates to the Federal Reserve, among others.

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While the shift weakened it a bit, this is still a historic day: open data will be part of of the US Code.

While the United States is not the first democracy to pass an open data law — Germany has that distinction — this is be a welcome advance, codifying the open government data policies, practices, roles and websites (looking at you, that the federal government had adopted over the past decade.

Open government activists, advocates and champions are celebrating, 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.

— 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.

— 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.”

Congratulations to everyone who has pushed for this outcome for years.

[Image Credit: Justin Grimes]

This post has been updated.

Dad, writer, citizen, chef, cyclist, skeptical optimist, cereal dilettante. Open government advocate at

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