Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Harnessing Observations and Data about our Earth

    Today, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) released a National Plan for Civil Earth Observations that aims to maximize the value of observations collected by Federal agencies of the Earth’s land surfaces, oceans, and atmosphere. The Plan is a blueprint for future Federal investments in and strategic partnerships to advance Earth observing systems that help protect life and property, stimulate economic growth, maintain homeland security, and advance scientific research and public understanding. 

    Americans and people around the world benefit from Earth-observations data every day. Have you ever used your smartphone to get a weather forecast?  Turned on the TV to check beach conditions?  Read a newspaper or magazine article describing the relationship of extreme weather events to climate change?  These services are driven by Earth-observations collected by the Federal Government, which are made routinely available to app-developers, news and weather organizations, mapping services, the scientific community, and the general public.

    The U.S. Government is among the world’s largest providers of Earth observations—including data and measurements collected from complex networks of satellites, ocean buoys, stream gauges, human surveys, and a host of other sophisticated systems.

    The Plan released today lays out Federal priorities and supporting actions to manage Earth observation systems through routine assessments, improved data management, interagency planning, and international collaboration. These steps will ensure continued provision of, and enhanced access to, high-impact Earth observation data to support public services, the monitoring of climate and land surface changes, and fundamental scientific research and technology innovation. 

  • Opening Up Data to Spur Innovation & Economic Growth

    During his July 3rd visit to local tech incubator 1776, President Obama met with RideScout, a start-up that uses open data from the Department of Transportation and local governments to power their smartphone app providing real-time transit updates for consumers, giving users information about local transportation options. Last month, during a tour of TechShop in Pittsburgh, the President talked about the importance of opening up government data to spur economic growth:

    “[T]he federal government possesses incredible amounts of data.  And one of the things that we’ve been doing a lot with the high-tech community is thinking about, with proper restrictions to protect privacy and so forth, are there ways for us to generate some of this big data that then ends up being the platform by which we can come up with applications on a smartphone.”

    Yesterday, the Department of Commerce released a report analyzing the economic value of government data, and how that data potentially guides trillions of dollars of investments each year. For example, the annual value of weather forecasts is $31.5 billion, an over six times return value from the $5.1 billion expended by the public and private sectors to produce the forecasts. Secretary Pritzker also announced that Commerce intends to hire a Chief Data Officer to organize and market its data resources to the American public and business community.

    The President’s Open Data Initiatives aren’t just about opening up and improving government data – they are also focused on engaging with innovators, entrepreneurs, and the general public on the innovative use of the data in products and services to improve everyday lives and grow the economy. To engage existing and prospective users of open government data, showcase their progress, and get constructive feedback, the Administration has been holding a number of data-related events this year, including:

  • Vice President Biden: Use Open Data and Innovation to Help Americans Find Jobs

    VP and Perez at "Data Jam" June 25

    Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez attend the White House "Data Jam" in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, June 25, 2014. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Americans searching for good middle-class jobs struggle with a paradox: despite plenty of information available about the labor market, it can be challenging to get simple, useful answers to questions such as:

    • What jobs are in demand, and which ones will be in demand in the future?
    • What current job openings exist?
    • What is the best way to get training and “skill up” into a better paying position?

    To help job seekers, employers, and local policy makers better navigate labor market information, the Vice President and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) are issuing a call-to-action to improve the tools and services for Americans to more seamlessly access and navigate the job market.

    So, on June 25th, 2014, more than 65 public and private sector innovators came together at the White House for the 21st Century Jobs Data Jam, a day-long workshop convened by the Office of the Vice President, OSTP, and the Departments of Labor and Commerce. 

    During the morning session, Vice President Joe Biden joined the technology leaders, design and user experience experts, and leading policymakers to challenge them to think about these problem at person-by-person level: how do we help real people find real jobs. 

  • Funding What Works: The Importance of Low-cost Randomized Controlled Trials

    [Editor's note: The headline and text of this blog have been updated.]

    President Obama has emphasized the importance of using rigorous evidence and evaluation to ensure that the government makes smart investments with taxpayer funds. A number of valuable Federal efforts have been launched in recent years under the umbrella of evidence-based policy, such as “tiered evidence” grant programs, Pay-for-Success initiatives, evaluation set-asides, Performance Partnership Pilots, and the establishment of the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. A summary of these efforts is available in the evaluation chapter of the 2014 Economic Report of the President, and a more detailed discussion in the Performance and Management section of the President’s budget. 

    Through assessments like low-cost randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the government can analyze data about the success of different programs, thus enabling more informed decisions when allocating funds to maximize the positive impact of these programs in areas such as healthcare, education, and childcare. 

    I sat down with Jon Baron, the president of the nonprofit, Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, to hear about how RTCs work and how RTCs can help the government make better policy.  

  • Announcing the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day

    As Hurricane Arthur reminded us last week, hurricane season is underway. To help address the challenges that severe weather brings to our communities, today we are announcing a White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day, which will take place on July 29 at the White House. This event will bring together technologists, entrepreneurs, and members of the disaster response community to showcase tools that will make a tangible impact in the lives of survivors of large-scale emergencies. The White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative was first launched by the Administration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to find the most effective ways technology can empower survivors, first responders, and local, state, tribal, territorial, and Federal government with critical information and resources.

    This event is a follow-up to the preview the President received at his annual Hurricane Season Briefing. At the brief, the President viewed a demonstration of the “Lantern Live” mobile app, designed by Department of Energy Presidential Innovation Fellow Derek Frempong to enable survivors to report and access information on power outages, fallen power lines, and the availability of gas stations with fuel and powered pumps. Other presenters included representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia and Orange County, Florida, who provided overviews of their mobile apps that assist residents before, during, and after emergencies. These apps help users develop their own emergency plans, receive emergency alerts, and access critical information, including evacuation routes, shelter locations, and ice and water distribution points.

    The President recognizes what experience and research have repeatedly shown: citizen/survivors faced with emergencies seek information and take action to help themselves, their neighbors, and their communities to respond to and rebuild from a disaster. Passivity in the face of danger is almost non-existent. Historically,  a large part, if not most of the initial sheltering, feeding, relief, rescue, and transport of victims to hospitals was carried out by survivors in and near the affected area. The Federal Government aims to enable, empower, and strengthen these survivor efforts in the wake of a disaster.

  • More than Ten Thousand Citizens Hack for Good at the Second-Annual National Day of Civic Hacking

    Open data empowers people and businesses, drives innovation, and makes possible what was previously impossible. Today’s apps and websites use open data to make cities easier to move around, more sustainable, and more business friendly. 

    For the second year in a row, America’s Civic Hackers, Mayors, and State and Federal government officials came together to participate in the National Day of Civic Hacking—the biggest gathering of civic hackers in the world. The event brings together technologists, entrepreneurs, developers, and citizens to unleash their tech skills to improve their communities and the governments that serve them. This year, 123 events were held in 103 cities in 13 countries across the world.

    Inspired by the National Day of Civic Hacking, mayors across the country are stepping up and recognizing the tremendous benefits to opening up their city data. For instance, showing their support for the open data movement, in May Mayor Karl Dean signed the “Metro Government Open Data Executive Order” for the City of Nashville, while Councilmember Sittenfeld and Interim City Manager Stiles announced the City of Cincinnati’s new open data policy.

    Los Angeles is also leveraging open data and civic hacking. On May 31st, City of Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin and Chief Innovation Technology Officer Peter Marx joined us at City Hall to launch an open data portal for the City of Los Angeles. At the event, we met with over 400 Los Angeleno civic hackers who are building tools to leverage the City’s newly released open data—including data sets on permits issued, incidence of traffic collisions, and 311 response times.