Understanding the 2018 Federal Data law:  Much more than open data

Abstract

During the winter of 2018-19, while many Americans were shoveling their driveways and sidewalks from a series of winter storms, the Federal Government shut down, and the President signed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (FEPA). Much of what we know about the new law and its impact is still unclear, but several things are readily apparent.

First, the role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) is now incorporated into federal law and separated from the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Second, government data is now open by default, and the Federal Government must maintain its data using open standards.

Third, the law requires that the Federal Government carefully manage its data following industry best practices.

Fourth, the Act fully recognizes the value and use of data in agency operations especially as part of evidence-based decision-making.

Finally, the law anticipates that, collectively, these efforts will improve governmental decision-making and overall effectiveness.

FEPA's broad requirements present federal agencies with new opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, some enthusiastically support the arrival of data management at the national data. On the other hand, some are concerned that without new funding, the Federal Government couldn't reasonably meet these new expectations. There is little doubt, however, that these changes will impact data across federal systems regardless of its format, digital or paper. It is not unreasonable to think that compliance with FEPA requirements could require levels of effort reaching those expended for Y2K compliance in the late nineties. 

This paper is a synopsis of the new legislation, the authors' views of the new law, a preliminary assessment of the law, and the impact it may have on government, industry, and the public. We summarize the legislation's significant features, examine how the new law differs from previous legislation, and review the requirement to expand the use of data across the federal landscape. Then, we identify outstanding questions we believe deserve further analysis and clarification. 

This content exclusively reflects the authors' thoughts and opinions.

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