How to Break the Information Bottleneck in Government Data?

The New York Times just covered the problems faced when opening up government data, in the article, How to Break an Information Bottleneck?

At the beginning of his presidency, President Obama expressed that, All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in a memorandum he wrote about the Freedom of Information Act.

After two and a half years after the president's call for openness, only 49 of 90 federal agencies have reported making changes to their FOIA procedures

How do you get these government bureaucracies to change their ways? There are no easy answers. It will take a lot of education of all levels of government, and showing how it will actually save the taxpayers money before anything will change.

In my opinion, I'd start with education of all government employees about what constitutes good data practices, such as:
  • PDF does not equal a data format
  • Microsoft Excel is better
  • Comma separate or tab separated is even better
  • Google Spreadsheet is ideal with itkinlane-productions2ion, API and visualizations
These are just a few basic concepts that can be taught, encouraging the sharing of government data from within each department, by the people creating and sharing the data.

Secondarily I would say teaching real-time best data practices would help as well. Things users can adopt and employ in every operations of government agencies.

Even in my heavy data, API, and cloud based world if I do not store data in centralized, accessible, and standardized way, right is unlikely it will ever happen. Rarely will I clean up data, publish, and make accessible in the future. The time has come and gone for opening up, it will be much more costly in the future.

The government deals with information requests daily in the the form of FOIA, which requires government agencies to divulge information when people ask for it. Corporations, journalists, and every day citizens use FOIA to find out how Washington operates.

In the New York Times article they state:

The new frontier in government accountability is not faster responses to information requests. It is an era of open data in which government departments put their information online in usable, searchable formats.

That would eliminate the need for many people to file individual FOIA requests - and for agencies to undertake the labor-intensive process of answering them. The ROI on making all government data open would be huge. If government departments put their information online in usable, search-able formats in real-time, it would eliminate the need for people to file FOIA requests, and for the agencies to respond to these requests.

This type of change will have to start with education amongst all government employees about good data practices. Show them how these good habits can improve their daily lives, but also help alleviate the larger bottleneck of government data.