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America’s Data Agency: How the Commerce Department is Transforming Our World With Data

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has been a champion of open data

This week at the Esri User Conference, attendees have been called to become “architects of the future.” We live in a world where data is driving decisions, and now, it is the responsibility of public servants to look to data as a means to elevate their agency and drive innovation.

The conference opened with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker providing remarks on the work that the Department of Commerce has done to transform the agency through data. Secretary Pritzker gave a great presentation on the power of data to transform the way government can deliver services. And to me, her presentation was a microcosm of Esri’s 35th annual users conference, and the power of the GIS platform to unlock insight from data.

“It is not hyperbole to call the Department of Commerce, “America’s Data Agency.” No other department can rival the reach, depth, and breadth of our data programs: Our data efforts are rooted in the Constitution, which laid the groundwork for the creation of the Census Bureau and the Patent and Trademark Office, two key data agencies housed at the Commerce Department,” said Secretary Pritzker.

Citing the work done by the Open Data 500, Pitzker showed how Commerce data has the power to enable start-ups, create markets and drive economic value for communities. With data, the Department of Commerce is determined to make its data open and accessible to help drive economic development.

An interesting program cited was the Open for Business Agency. “For the first time, we have made it a department-wide strategic priority: to unleash more of our data to strengthen our economic growth; to make our data easier to access, understand, and use; to maximize return on investment for businesses, entrepreneurs, government, taxpayers, and communities.”

The power of data is limitless, industries can grow and services can be improved. “There is so much more potential to tap – and more data to be unleashed – that will strengthen industry and expand economic opportunity for millions of Americans,” said Pritzker.

“We are a startup as “America’s Data Agency,” but the Department of Commerce has the tools necessary to develop, test, and grow the next phase of the open data revolution.”

Moving Forward with Government Data

But in order to move forward with data, and to truly unleash its potential, Pritzker notes there are some best practices and work to do be done.

Above all, Priztker realizes the power of Commerce data to drive innovation, and with such stellar leadership from the highest levels of government, one major barrier to data innovation has been eliminated. But the work doesn’t stop internally, it’s also being able to collaborate with peers around data, and know that they are providing the right kinds of value.

“To fully tap into potential [of data], we must partner with the private sector to make our data even more useful to businesses, communities, individuals, and decision makers of all types,” said Pritzker. And even more so, there is a dire need to create a common data language and platform for agencies and leaders to access.

“We must build a common platform that ensures: greater technical capacity to liberate our data; an ability to combine data in ways that make them more valuable; and better overall service for our customers. We aspire to develop new suites of data products created to meet the needs of businesses, innovators, governments and others.”

The Department of Commerce now understands the power of open data, and Pritzker noted that they are now hiring their first-ever Chief Data Officer. “Our Chief Data Officer will be responsible for developing and implementing a vision for the future of our diverse data resources. Our Chief Data Officer will pull together a platform for all of our data sets; oversee improvements in data collection and dissemination; and ensure our data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic. Put simply, our Chief Data Officer will hold the key to unlocking more of our government data.”

There are many other initiatives that the department has embarked on to showcase the power of data:

  • The International Trade Administrations Developer Portal: “a toolkit to put diverse sets of trade and investment data in a single place, making it easier for businesses to use and better tap into the 95 percent of America’s customers that live outside the country.”
  • Creation of a data advisory council: “comprised of private sector leaders, to advise the department on the best use of government data.”
  • American Community Survey panel: This week the agency hosted a panel on how government agencies, at all levels of government, can leverage the American Community Survey data.

Commerce Case Study: NOAA

Secretary Pritzker was also joined by Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

“I’m hear to tell you that my agency, NOAA, we are America’s environmental intelligence agency, our whole purpose, our core purposes, is to keep the pules of the planet, take the measurements, collect the data and then characterize this Earth we live on,” said Sullivan.

“But more importantly, through scientific analysis, through assessments, through modeling, to transform data into information that then become knowledge and insights that can connect to the decisions that people are facing every single day.”

The challenge that Sullivan faces is to make sure that the data that NOAA provides is authoritative, timely, accurate and complete. “Whether you are a city or urban planner that has a longer time frame to work in and a more collaborative process together, it has to work into the decision making process if its going to become real or really matter in everyday life,” said Sullivan.

NOAA collects a troves of environmental data, from satellite imagery to ocean data, “The point is not what cool data do I have, the point is what insight or knowledge do you need,” said Sullivan. To help drive the necessary insights to improve the efficiency to meet mission need, the agency relies on GIS to help provide situational awareness, insights and new perspectives, that otherwise would remain unknown. “

“[GIS] can also provide us with foresight, the ability to look ahead, think ahead about the decisions we might make and the consequences in our world and about events that might occur, and if we are really ready to prepare for those,” said Sullivan.

“In our modern GIS data, maps have also become story making tools, powerful open frameworks in which we can come together and combine the very facets of our world and the very threads of our society and together weave the very fabric of our future.”

Leadership at the Department of Commerce understands the power of data to transform our communities. By making data open and accessible, new insights and stronger decision-making can take place across government, helping creating sustainable communities able to meet the complex demands of the public sector.

Photo credit: Department of Commerce FlickR

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