New US Govt Data Online

January 23, 2010

One of President Obama’s first statements after his inauguration contained a promise that the US government would become more open and transparent.  The President later instructed all Executive Branch departments to make at least three “high value” sets of data available online.  Now, as reported in an article at the Washington Post, the first installment of that delivery has been completed, to meet the deadline yesterday.

The new data sets, as well as a large number of existing ones, are all available at the government’s omnibus data Web site, www.data.gov.  The site has a catalog of “raw” data sets, a collection of tools for working with some of the data, and a separate catalog of geographic and earth science data.  The new data sets are also listed in a separate section, called “Open Government Data Sets”.  (Unfortunately, the link to this in the graphic at the top of the home page seems to be broken at the moment; to access the list, just scroll down a bit until you see the text link in the right-hand column.)

As you might expect, the new data is very much a mixed bag.  There are some data sets that potentially could be very useful; for example (the descriptions are from the data.gov site):

  • MyPyramid Food Data provides information on the total calories; calories from solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol (extras); MyPyramid food group and subgroup amounts; and saturated fat content of over 1,000 commonly eaten foods with corresponding commonly used portion amounts.
  • The Medicare Part B National datasets are summarized by meaningful Health Care Common Procedure Coding/Current Procedural Terminology, (HCPC/CPT), code ranges. Each dataset displays the allowed services, allowed charges and payment amounts by HCPC/CPT codes and prominent modifiers.
  • To assist consumers purchasing new vehicles or replacement tires, NHTSA has rated more than 4,200 lines of tires, including most used on passenger cars, minivans, SUVs and light pickup trucks using a grading system known as the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQGS).

There are also some data sets that are probably of less general interest, like data from the Annual Survey of Jails, and the “census” of wild horses and burros.

Still, I think this is a very positive step.  I’ve observed before that making some data available online, even data that was theoretically public to begin with, has made life easier for some criminals.  At the very least we should be able to get access to the useful data, too.


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