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New Commerce Department report explores huge benefits, low cost of government data

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Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data

Cross post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Today we are pleased to roll out an important new Commerce Department report on government data. “Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data,” arrives as our society increasingly focuses on how the intelligent use of data can make our businesses more competitive, our governments smarter, and our citizens better informed. 

And when it comes to data, as the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, I have a special appreciation for the Commerce Department’s two preeminent statistical agencies, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. These agencies inform us on how our $17 trillion economy is evolving and how our population (318 million and counting) is changing, data critical to our country. Although “Big Data” is all the rage these days, the government has been in this  business for a long time: the first Decennial Census was in 1790, gathering information on close to four million people, a huge dataset for its day, and not too shabby by today’s standards as well. 

Just how valuable is the data we provide? Our report seeks to answer this question by exploring the range of federal statistics and how they are applied in decision-making. Examples of our data include gross domestic product, employment, consumer prices, corporate profits, retail sales, agricultural supply and demand, population, international trade and much more.

Clearly, as shown in the report, the value of this information to our society far exceeds its cost – and not just because the price tag is shockingly low: three cents, per person, per day. Federal statistics guide trillions of dollars in annual investments at an average annual cost of $3.7 billion: just 0.02 percent of our $17 trillion dollar economy covers the massive amount of data collection, processing and dissemination. With a statistical system that is comprehensive, consistent, confidential, relevant and accessible, the federal government is uniquely positioned to provide a wide range of statistics that complement the vast and growing sources of private sector data. 

Our federally collected information is frequently “invisible,” because attribution is not required. But it flows daily into myriad commercial products and services. Today’s report identifies the industries that intensively use our data and provides a rough estimate of the size of this sector. The lower-bound estimate suggests government statistics help private firms generate revenues of at least $24 billion annually – more than six times what we spend for the data. The upper-bound estimate suggests annual revenues of $221 billion!

This report takes a first crack at putting an actual dollars and cents value to government data. We’ve learned a lot from this initial study, and look forward to honing in even further on that figure in our next report. 

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