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S. 760 (115th): Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act

GovTrack endorses this bill because it codifies the practices of open government data that we helped to pioneer. For more information, see a letter of support that we signed onto. was launched in 2009 as a public repository for data about the federal government, including budgets, revenues, and more. But the website has fallen short of some of its initial promises regarding scope and usability. And many fear the Trump administration could interfere with or restrict open data.

A 2013 President Obama executive order attempted to accomplish some goals regarding the website and transparency, but like all executive efforts, those moves could be reversed by succeeding presidential administrations. That’s especially true for an administration like President Trump’s, which has opposed many elements of government transparency, from refusing to release his tax returns to closing the White House visitor logs.

What the bill does

New legislation would solve this problem by codifying Obama’s executive order into law, which cannot simply be reversed by subsequent administrations, and would add some additional reforms. The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act would require almost all government information that is subject to public release to be available at the website for unmediated and free of charge access.

It would also require the information to be “machine-readable,” which means that any numbers and information could be searchable and sortable. That’s as opposed to, for example, a scanned PDF of a page.

Lastly, it would establish a “presumption of openness,” in which the default assumption is that any government data should be available to the public unless prohibited by an exemption in another law. (To a much lesser extent, this was already the case under the 1960s-era Freedom of Information Act.)

The bill is introduced as S. 760 in the Senate by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and H.R. 1770 in the House by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA6).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that in the digital age, there’s no excuse for preventing government data that should be online and easily accessible from being just that.

“Our goal is to make data more open to the public and more efficiently used by government agencies,” House lead sponsor Kilmer said in a press release. “Making open data standard practice will create a more responsive government and help everyday Americans. It saves taxpayer money and gives innovators new tools to help fuel breakthroughs. I’m proud to be a part of this effort to empower positive change for our government, citizens, and businesses.”

There appear to be few if any vocal opponents, as a previous version passed the Senate during the December 2016 lame duck session by a unanimous consent voice vote, indicating a lack of serious opposition.

[Note: GovTrack signed onto a letter of support endorsing the OPEN Government Data Act on April 5.]

Odds of passage

The Senate version has attracted four cosponsors, two Republicans and two Democrats, and was reported by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee on May 17. The House version has attracted 12 cosponsors, 10 Democrats and two Republicans, but has not yet received a committee vote.

A previous version passed the Senate during the December 2016 lame duck session by a unanimous consent voice vote, but never received a House vote.

Last updated Jun 13, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 24, 2017.

Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act or the OPEN Government Data Act

(Sec. 4) This bill requires open government data assets made available by federal agencies (excluding the Government Accountability Office [GAO] and certain other government entities) to be published as machine-readable data. When not otherwise prohibited by law, and to the extent practicable, public data assets and nonpublic data assets maintained by the federal government must be available: (1) in an open format that does not impede use or reuse and that has standards maintained by a standards organization; and (2) under open licenses with a legal guarantee that the data be available at no cost to the public with no restrictions on copying, publishing, distributing, transmitting, citing, or adapting.

If published government data assets are not available under an open license, the data must be considered part of the worldwide public domain. Agencies may engage with outside organizations and citizens to leverage public data assets for innovation in public and private sectors.

Agencies must: (1) make their enterprise data inventories available to the public on, and (2) designate a point of contact to assist the public and respond to complaints about adherence to open data requirements. For privacy, security, confidentiality, or regulatory reasons, agencies may maintain a nonpublic portion of their inventories.

The General Services Administration must maintain a single public interface online as a point of entry dedicated to sharing open government data with the public.

(Sec. 5) The Chief Operating Officer of each agency shall submit to Congress and to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a report assessing the coverage, quality, methods, effectiveness, and independence of the evaluation, research, and analysis efforts of the agency.

The GAO shall submit to Congress a report that summarizes agency findings and highlights trends from the reports submitted and, if appropriate, recommends actions to further improve agency capacity to use evaluation techniques and data to support evaluation efforts.

(Sec. 6) The OMB must develop and maintain an online repository of tools, best practices, and schema standards to facilitate the adoption of open data practices.