HHS, Todd Park, and the Market Potential of Open Data

The National Journal just featured Department of Health and Human Services CTO Todd Park and the work he and his department have been doing with technology. In our opinion, they are one of the best — if not the best — examples of open government and Gov 2.0 at the federal level: not only using tech itself to open government up, but leveraging the culture and tactics of the industry to change the way government is doing business. The long, but worthwhile article is a useful primer of their work so far. While reading it, one section of the article stood out regarding the potential around open data, which I wanted to excerpt both because it’s informative and because it’s a great example that — quite simply — they get it:

The potential benefits of such open government initiatives are immense. In interviews with Park, he repeatedly brought up the example of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1970s, NOAA began releasing its daily weather data to the public, and today that data is used by hundreds of companies, from Weather.com to a variety of smartphone apps. The government also opened up its GPS data in the ’80s, a move that gave birth to an entire industry of companies that use the data across millions of devices. A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute found that, as the New York Times put it, “the value [of open data] to the health care system in the United States could be $300 billion a year, and that American retailers could increase their operating profit margins by 60 percent.” Given that U.S. health care costs billions of dollars a year and makes up 17 percent of GDP, companies have more than enough incentive to create applications and tools that can cut costs and drive economic activity within this sector.

In that initial meeting with Park, Corr said that HHS was sitting on mountains of data, most of which wasn’t tapped for its full potential. The new position, he explained, had no specific job description, and Corr would make sure to provide plenty of air cover for the CTO so that Park “would actually be empowered to do stuff.”

Update: This article originally appeared in The Atlantic.

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