Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Open Data Round Up

    On May 9, 2013, President Obama signed an Executive Order, Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information, directing historic steps to make government-held data more accessible to the public, entrepreneurs, and others as fuel for innovation, economic growth, and government efficiency.

    Under the terms of the Executive Order and the Administration’s Open Data Policy, all newly-generated government data are required to be made available in open, machine-readable formats, which greatly enhances their accessibility and usefulness while continuing to ensure privacy and security. Federal agencies are also required to:

    • Create a Single Agency Data Inventory. Agencies are required to catalogue their data assets, just like they would inventory computers or desk chairs, to better manage and use these resources.
    • Publish a Public Data Listing. On their agency.gov/data pages, agencies are required to publish a list of their data assets that are public, or could be made public.
    • Develop New Public Feedback Mechanisms. Agencies are required to set up feedback mechanisms to engage the public about where agencies should focus open data efforts, such as facilitating and prioritizing the release of datasets. Agencies are also required to identify public points of contacts for agency datasets.

    While there is still much more work to do, we are excited to see the great progress being made by Federal agencies to unleash the power of open data. 

    Over a dozen agencies have launched webpages at agency.gov/data, making it easier for the public to find, understand, and use government data.  Many agencies have released—and will continue to release—new datasets, which are now available both on agencies’ public data webpages and on Data.gov.

    Federal agencies are also working to put processes in place to manage data more strategically. In fact, over 15 agencies have launched data working groups inside their agency to improve coordination around data management, data security and protection, and data release efforts. 

  • “Don’t just play on your phone, program it.”

    This week is Computer Science Education Week, or “CSEdWeek,” an annual campaign highlighting the importance of learning computer science. CSEdWeek is held in recognition of the birthday of computer science pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, widely known for popularizing the idea of “debugging” a computer—a phrase inspired by her team’s removal of an actual moth from a relay in a Harvard Mark II computer in 1947. (Its remains can be found in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.) This year, non-profit group Code.org is driving CSEdWeek activities in more than 150 countries around the world and sponsoring an “Hour of Code” campaign that encourages all students to devote an hour this week to getting a taste of computer programming.

    The ability to write computer software—to code—is an important skill. It moves people from being consumers of technology to creators of it. An understanding of coding helps people learn new strategies for solving problems and harness the power of computers to realize their own visions, whatever they may be. Everyone—scientists, fashion designers, doctors, journalists, lawyers, musicians, students—can benefit from a greater understanding of how to use computing.

    Computer literacy is important for success in today’s digital economy, yet many American schools still view computer science education as an exotic elective. Only a handful of states allow computer science courses to count as math or science credits toward high school graduation requirements. AP Computer Science is taught in just 10% of our high schools, whereas the UK recently added computer science to its curriculum, teaching CS to all students from ages 5 to 17. China teaches all of its students one year of computer science. The CS 10K Initiative, supported by the National Science Foundation, is working to build curricula and course materials to support educators’ needs so they can more effectively teach computer science.

  • Partnering at the Speed of Business: University-Company Partnerships

    One of the goals of President Obama’s innovation strategy is to accelerate the rate at which new inventions that result from federally funded research at the Nation’s universities and national labs move from the lab to the marketplace. Speeding that transition spurs the creation of new industries and jobs while addressing pressing challenges such as the need for clean sources of energy and treatments for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

    Federal agencies have already developed a number of initiatives to increase the economic and societal impact of federally funded research.  As part of the President’s Startup America Initiative, for example, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy have made it much easier and less expensive for entrepreneurs to license intellectual property.  Using curricula such as Steve Blank’s Lean Launch Pad, NSF’s I-Corps program is preparing more faculty and students to focus on the issues that are critical to the success of an early-stage venture.

    Companies and universities are also taking important steps to “partner at the speed of business.”  For example, earlier this year, Google/Motorola Mobility negotiated a Multi-University Research Agreement with eight leading public and private research universities: California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, and Virginia Tech University. The agreement deals with often contentious issues such as academic freedom to publish and intellectual property.

    The impetus for the agreement came from Regina Dugan and Kaigham Gabriel, who served, respectively, as Director and Deputy Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) before launching a private-sector version of DARPA at Motorola Mobility called the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. They discovered that ATAP could, in a matter of days and weeks, contract with individuals and companies, but that it could take several months to negotiate an agreement with a university. These negotiations would have to be repeated with each additional university they wanted to work with, making multi-university collaborations particularly difficult.  With the agreement in place, ATAP has dramatically lowered the time and hassle factor associated with university collaborations, and are now much more likely to collaborate on specific projects.

  • The United States Releases its Second Open Government National Action Plan

    Since his first full day in office, President Obama has prioritized making government more open and accountable and has taken substantial steps to increase citizen participation, collaboration, and transparency in government. Today, the Obama Administration released the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, announcing 23 new or expanded open-government commitments that will advance these efforts even further.

    In September 2010, President Obama challenged members of the United Nations General Assembly to work together to make all governments more open and accountable to their people. To meet that challenge, in July 2011, President Obama joined the leaders of seven other nations in announcing the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance. In two short years, the OGP has grown from eight to more than 60 member-nations that have collectively made more than 1,000 commitments to improve the governance of more than two billion people around the globe.

    Then, in September 2011, the United States released its first Open Government National Action Plan, setting a series of ambitious goals to create a more open government. The United States has continued to implement and improve upon the open-government commitments set forth in the first Plan, along with many more efforts underway across government, including implementing individual Federal agency Open Government Plans. The second Plan builds on these efforts, in part through a series of key commitments highlighted in a preview report issued by the White House in October 2013, in conjunction with the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit in London.

  • Expanded “Green Button” Will Reach Federal Agencies and More American Energy Consumers

    Today, President Obama issued a memorandum directing Federal agencies to redouble efforts to use renewable energy and manage their energy usage more efficiently and effectively. In addition to setting an ambitious new target for Federal agencies to increase their consumption of renewable energy to 20% of their total amount of electric energy use by 2020, the memorandum instructs agencies to incorporate the “Green Button” data standard into their energy management practices.

    The Green Button Initiative is an industry-led response to a White House call-to-action to provide utility customers with easy and secure access to their own energy usage information in a consumer-friendly and computer-friendly format.  Today, 48 utilities and electricity suppliers serving more than 59 million homes and businesses have committed to enable their customers with “Green Button” access to help them save energy and shrink their bills. Of these, over 42 million household and business customers (reaching well over 100 million Americans) already have access to their Green Button energy data.

    Following the President’s direction, the Federal Government is committing to use the Green Button data standard—an industry-developed consensus-driven method for accessing and transmitting energy-consumption information—within its own operations and facilities, making it easier for building managers to use innovative analytical tools, apps, and services related to energy usage, and helping Federal agencies to better manage their own energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Specifically, GSA, DOE and EPA will create and initiate a pilot to use Green Button at Federal facilities. Based on the outcomes of this pilot, these agencies will issue guidance for other facilities to follow suit by, where feasible, incorporating Green Button into reporting, data analytics and automation, and processes in consultation with their local utilities. The end goal will be to enter data into EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager for benchmarking and reduce energy costs and usage across the Federal Government.

    Dozens of electric utilities have already embraced the Green Button data standard, making it easier for customers to securely download and transmit their own energy-usage data. Building on the President’s memorandum issued today, we’re excited by recent decisions by utilities to adopt or further expand their support for Green Button.

  • National Entrepreneurship Month Wrap-Up

    November was National Entrepreneurship Month and in this year’s proclamation designating it as such, President Obama called on all Americans to “come together and help aspiring entrepreneurs take a chance on themselves and their visions for a brighter future.” 

    In that spirit, throughout the month of November, OSTP highlighted the inspiring stories of students across America who are rolling up their sleeves, pursuing bright ideas, and starting companies—as well as many of the new tools, services, and programs that are emerging to help even more students blaze entrepreneurial paths to the future.

    In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of how we celebrated National Entrepreneurship Month in November: