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The Commerce Department’s Strategic Plan: The Value of Government Data

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The Average Daily Cost, Per Person, of the Principal Statistical Agencies is Three Cents

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Last week, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker unveiled the Department’s America is Open for Business:  Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2014-2018.  One of the plan’s five priority areas is a redefinition of how we manage, optimize and enable public access to our treasure trove of data.  The Commerce Department is fortunate to have numerous agencies that provide data that are critical to the information economy, such as:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) demographic and economic statistics;
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather, ocean and climate information; 
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientific data;
  • National Technical Information Service (NTIS) information; and
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent databases. 

Specifically, the plan pledges to “improve government, business, and community decisions and knowledge by transforming Department data capabilities and supporting a data-enabled economy.”  Success has three dimensions.  First, everyone in our country should have easy access to reliable information about their communities, about their climate, and about how these are changing.  Second, every business should have easy access to reliable information on their market, potential markets, scientific information, and changing economic conditions.  Further, new data-based businesses should be able to easily pull our data, combine it with other information, and make new products to compete in the private marketplace.  Third, and finally, every government should have easy access to the information they need to better serve their communities and to assess the efficacy of their programs.  More simply put, success is making our data accessible in ways that make our businesses more competitive, our governments smarter, and our citizens more informed.

How will that be achieved?  The first component is to transform DOC’s data capacity to make our data more accessible and usable.  The second component of the data strategic plan is for us to use data to make government smarter.  The third objective of our plan is to develop better collaboration and feedback loops with the private sector; to create timely, relevant, and accessible products and services.  Many specific initiatives are well underway.  For example, NOAA already is seeking private-sector input on new public-private partnership models to make more weather and climate data available.  NIST is spearheading the development of Big Data standards. <--break->

Collectively, these efforts will ensure that we maximize the value of taxpayers’ investments (and the time millions of households and businesses spend responding to our surveys).  To get a sense of the value of government data, let’s focus on government statistics.  ESA’s statistical agencies, the Census Bureau and BEA, are two of the 13 Principal Statistical Agencies within the federal government.  Together, these agencies provide comprehensive, consistent, confidential, credible, relevant, and fair data to support decision making throughout the economy, helping businesses to be competitive, individuals to stay informed, and governments to work smarter.  Our data programs — from the Constitutionally-mandated Decennial Census of the population to the National Income and Product Accounts (that measure the economy’s size and performance, for example, real gross domestic product or GDP) —enable us to understand the current state of our changing economy; to see, statistically, the face of America; and to make choices such as where to live, how to commute to work, and where to build malls and airports. 

How much do we pay for government statistics?  About three cents, per person, per day.

Between 2004 and 2013, the United States spent an average of $3.6 billion annually (in 2013 dollars) on the Principal Statistical Agencies. This is roughly 0.02 percent of 2013 GDP and $11.54 per capita per year – or 3 cents, per capita, per day. 

Spending on data produced by the statistical agencies is a tiny fraction (one tenth of one percent) of the $3.2 trillion in annual U.S. investments, many of which are guided by our data.  The Department’s new strategic plan aims to add even greater value to government data, improving investment decisions and increasing our economy’s output.

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