The federal government spends a lot of time and energy collecting data. Hundreds of agencies sit on vast supplies of information compiled from sources such as tax returns, geologic surveys, regulatory filings, student-loan statements, and Medicare records.
(Koren Shadmi)That information can be difficult to find—but not necessarily because it's hidden behind lock and key. Some of the information the government compiles and organizes is publicly available as searchable data on sites like data.gov and USAspending.gov. The problem is that much of what remains has been released as lengthy documents that aren't readily searchable (think scanned paper) instead of as machine-readable datasets (think Excel spreadsheets).
The potential benefits of cleaning up existing government data, and releasing more data in machine-readable format, are vast. One beneficiary, of course, would be the business world—and it's therefore no surprise that businesses are lobbying for the change. For one thing, if the federal government accepted documents like regulatory filings as data rather than forms, firms that spend thousands a year on compliance could instead use automated processes to submit required information. Imagine a "TurboTax for everything," says Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, a trade association that lobbies on behalf of tech firms. Moreover, if consulting firms had better access to government data, he argues, they could in turn help the government manage itself better.