Multiple federal open data initiatives at risk under budget cuts

Earlier today, Virginia Carlson, president of the Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC), commented extensively upon proposed deep Congressional cuts to funding for open government data platforms. Carlson provided more context for other federal open data initiatives that may also be cut. Her thoughts are shared below as a guest post. -Editor

Recent news that data transparency initiatives at the federal level are set to be shut down are coupled with an attack on long-standing federal data initiatives that produce critical economic and demographic data.

In March 2011, H.R. 931 was introduced to make participation in the American Community Survey voluntary by removing the legal penalty for not responding to the survey. Without compulsory participation, the ACS likely would not capture the broad swath of the American populace it needs to, –such citizens in towns and rural counties– and would become inaccurate and thus irrelevant. Congress relies on ACS data to guide the distribution of $485 billion annually in federal grants to states and localities. Already cash-strapped state and local governments would be hindered in their ability to efficiently target tax dollars in public investments such as roads, schools and health clinics. Private sector investments that rely on economic and demographic profiles of people in places (real estate and media industries for example) would also suffer.

At the same time, the Census Bureau budget for Fiscal Year 2012 submitted to Congress proposes to terminate six programs for a total of $10.3 million, about 1 percent of the Census Bureau budget. Among those items on the chopping block are online and print versions of the U.S. Statistical Abstract, State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, Population Change in Central and Outlying Counties of Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and the Consolidated Federal Funds Report.

What does this apparent diminishing commitment to federal data leadership mean for our future ability to make good policy, prioritize public investments, and compete globally? One scenario is that we turn to other, perhaps less democratic and more expensive, sources: internet-generated data (social apps, web scrapes), business-gathered data (market research firms) or harnessing administrative data (from driver’s license files, Medicare records, etc.). Who then will be counted? How do we ensure privacy?

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

2 Responses

  1. We can save the data at (1) and the IT Dashboard (2) even if we can not save the funding and we can save the data catalog at (3) even if we can not save the funding. There are still 87 other data catalogs – see

    We all share the blame for not demonstrating more value from these data sooner like Dean Allemang’s EDW exercise (4). See Tweets at


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