January 8, 2013
Open Data at DOT - A Case Study for Maturing Data Release Practices to Drive Innovation and Increase Accountability
Kristen Baldwin, Associate Chief Information Officer for IT Policy Oversight
Office of the Chief Information Officer, Department of Transportation
The DOT performs a wide range of business services aimed at solving the complex safety issues associated with our Nation’s transportation systems. The DOT relies heavily on its data resources to drive business and investment decisions. These include data compiled by State, local, and tribal governments, as well as private sector entities. The Department is committed to unlocking more public data to:
In response to the Open Government Directive, DOT developed a strategic action plan to inventory and release high-value information through the Data.gov portal. In the winter of 2010, the DOT Associate Chief Information Officer for IT Policy Oversight, serving as the Senior Accountable Official for Open Government, convened a wide-ranging group of stakeholders from around the Department to develop the required strategic action plan. The plan was detailed in DOT’s Open Government Plan, version 1.2 (released on June 25, 2010), and included three tracks:
DOT detailed the results of its strategic action plan on its open government Web page. The Department sustained efforts in building its data inventory, responding to the President’s memorandum on regulatory compliance with a comprehensive plan that was recognized as a model for other agencies to follow. DOT’s flagship initiative in its second Open Government Plan, released in April 2012, is Safety.Data.gov, is intended to create momentum behind the productive use of safety-related datasets, enabling the public to make better safety-related decisions using both current statistical descriptions and explanations of the environment that will affect our future. Safety.Data.gov will tap into the innovation of application developers, the immediacy of the internet, and information that the Federal Government collects to enable informed decisions that will enhance public safety and improve public health in the United States.
The DOT has a long-standing tradition of making data available to the public. As a partner agency involved in the stand-up of Fedstats.gov, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics helped to lead the development of an important pre-cursor to Data.gov. In addition, the DOT operates a number of transparency portals that provide information on railroad safety, commercial motor vehicle safety, vehicle safety, and pipeline safety. The Department’s leaders identified a number of fundamental issues that must be considered in order to provide sustained access to high-value transportation data. Many of these issues are being addressed and managed through internal policies. These issues include:
To achieve the objectives outlined in the Open Government Directive and address the concerns outlined above, DOT developed a strategic action plan, outlined below:
The plan contained three primary tracks. The Strategy track provided overarching guidance for the Department’s approach to information access. In the short term, DOT’s strategy focused on achieving the open data objectives outlined in the Open Government Directive. The Department developed longer-term information access strategy that addresses the methods for creating enduring access to the Department’s data. These strategies are underpinned by policies focused on approving and publishing data and the necessary procedures to managing those data releases. Finally, the Department met Open Government Directive requirements for identifying and releasing high value data using a structured, standard process for creating its data inventory.
The DOT data inventory process involved a review of the Department’s information technology (IT) portfolio and data that is already released on DOT Web sites. Information that was published in an unstructured format (for instance, embedded in reports) was traced back to its source information system wherever possible. This step was necessary to ensure that the release of underlying structured data (for instance, data that are included in tables or used to generate graphs inside a report) could be automated from an authoritative source. Further, the Department reviewed its active and expired information collections (authorized under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA)) and its Electronic Information Systems inventory (required to meet Federal records management requirements) to trace these items back to the appropriate authoritative information systems. To assist in maintaining this inventory, DOT leveraged its Enterprise Architecture to develop a registry. The DOT Chief Enterprise Architects also developed a structured process to identify and prioritize datasets for release.
The DOT’s Open Government Policy Working Group, that was convened to recommend a policy development strategy to senior leadership, consisted of subject matter experts from policy, budget, performance, strategic planning, human resources, technology operations, and legal. Developing a unified Open Government policy for the DOT was a large task. Some major policy areas were well understood, including policies around data transparency and the selection and use of social media tools. However, to create a policy framework that drives towards the DOT’s strategic goals for Open Government, a unified policy DOT considered more than those well-understood areas. The figure to the right outlines DOT’s approach to an open government policy framework.
Once the stage was set for employees to understand what tools are available to increase public engagement in their daily work, the Department explored establishing processes for decision-makers to prioritize the Department’s resources in posting information. Those processes ensured that information posted is “releasable” and “usable” both in content and format.
Content releasability is determined with value, quality, security, privacy, and confidentiality interests in mind. Format guidelines differ depending on whether the information is structured or unstructured. The DOT will continue to release DOT data in a timely manner by proactively making it available online in consistent, open formats, while assuring accuracy and protecting privacy, security, and confidentiality.
The DOT has released 765 datasets or tools to Data.gov. The processes and policies that have been established under DOT’s approach to Open Government helped DOT build a comprehensive plan responding to the President’s memorandum on regulatory compliance that was recognized as a model for other agencies to follow. In May of 2012, DOT, in partnership with the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, launched Safety.Data.gov with 713 datasets, four (4) mobile apps, 14 resources and public domain software tools, and three (3) challenges or competitions. In September 2012, we held the first safety datapalooza, and the community now has 869 datasets, 10 mobile apps, and six (6) challenges or competitions encouraging public use of safety data from around the government.
DOT has already recognized benefits as a result of regulatory transparency efforts. For example, for the first time, FMCSA has begun releasing the information behind its Safety Measurement System (SMS) to the public in bulk, downloadable formats. Business and private citizens are mining this data for potential opportunities. For instance, a windshield repair company looking to grow its business is mining FMCSA information about safety violations to identify new customers. DOT and the public realize a benefit because the commercial vehicle operator customer is using a safer vehicle and operating in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. In addition, DOT has pursued innovation in its data release practices: