- Radio hour
- About us
The Obama Administration has championed “open data” by encouraging agencies to make a wider range of agency statistical information available to the public. Its philosophy is “information is a valuable national resource and strategic asset.” To that end, it has issued directives and created a centralized website for data open to the public.
But what about those administrative data that cannot be publicly shared for privacy or business confidentiality reasons? “Administrative data” are collected and used by agencies to carry out the basic administration and processing of different government programs. For good reasons, government records of individuals’ tax, social security earnings, health insurance, and other benefit information cannot and should not be shared publicly. In fact, there are strict laws in place to safeguard these kinds of data.
Sharing Non-Public Data. Can these non-public protected data at least be shared between federal agencies -- if stripped of individual identifiers -- so they can be used for statistical purposes? To date, that has been difficult, and each agency has been left to interpret whether they can share their data or not, and under what circumstances.
Existing laws allow certain kinds of sharing, but in many cases, existing constraints (either real or perceived) on sharing data has meant that one agency will have to conduct a survey of people or businesses for information that has already been collected by another agency. This has resulted in costly and duplicative data collection efforts for government, businesses, and individuals.
For the past five years, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been advocating the sharing of statistical information between agencies in order to conduct evidence-based analyses supporting better program decisions, without new and costly data collection efforts. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs to share statistical data about homeless veterans in order to better target services to them. As a result of their joint efforts, they have reduced veteran homelessness by a quarter since 2010.
OMB’s New Guidance. Last week, OMB quietly released a significant piece of guidance to agencies that provides practical advice on how to share non-public administrative data for statistical purposes in responsible ways that protect confidentiality.
Next Steps. Of course, no OMB memo would be complete without a requirement for agencies to report back on their progress. So agencies are required to report to OMB no later than June 30, 2014 on what processes they have put in place to implement the guidance. Again, OMB provides a helpful outline of what that report should contain, including:
So, if you are in an agency and think another agency has data you think would be useful to your meeting your mission – you now have the permission slip to ask for it (for statistical purposes, that is)!