White House unveils new federal open data policy

The White House and its Office of Management and Budget on Thursday unveiled policy requirements calling for all federal government agencies to make information resources easily accessible.

In its memorandum, OMB calls on all federal agencies "to collect or create information in a way that supports downstream information processing … including using machine-readable and open formats, data standards, and common core and extensible metadata for all new information creation and collection efforts."  Such efforts already are underway by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which this week released data comparing average hospital charges for the 100 most common Medicare claims. The information, posted online, illustrates wide variations for such charges, not just across regions, but within cities.

OMB outlines five actions that agencies must take to improve management of information resources, including:

  1. The aforementioned collection or creation of information for supporting downstream information processing
  2. The building information systems to support interoperability and information accessibility
  3. The strengthening of data management and release practices, which can be attained by  a) creating and maintaining an enterprise data inventory; b)creating and maintaining a public data listing; c) creating a process to engage with customers to facilitate data release; and d) clarifying roles and responsibilities for the promotion of effective data release practices
  4. The strengthening of privacy and security measures
  5. The incorporation of new interoperability and openness requirements into core agency processes

"Making information resources accessible, discoverable and usable by the public can help fuel entrepreneurship, innovation and scientific discovery--all of which improve Americans' lives and contribute significantly to job creation," OMB says.

The "liberation" of data has been a priority of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT for quite some time. At a meeting last June at the White House, officials from the Obama administration, ONC and other agencies met with a number of health IT enthusiasts and advocates with a focus on improving patient access to data. Topics of conversation included patients' rights to their own data, patient identification and privacy, and the Blue Button initiative--the latter of which assembles patient records into a single, portable file that can be accessed virtually anywhere.

In an interview with FierceHealthIT in November 2011, then-HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said that use of IT and data were key to helping to evolve the health system to a better place.

"Market incentives are beginning to change in the direction of rewarding innovations that improve health, quality, and efficiency, and information is being liberated at multiple levels to help power these innovations," said Park, current U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and one of four federal officials to sign the document.

To learn more:
- here's the document (.pdf)