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Blog Category: Open Government

Department of Commerce Goes Live with FOIAonline

Image of opening page of FOIAonline website

Guest blog post by Joey Hutcherson, Deputy Director of Open Government

Today, as part of administration-wide efforts to ensure public trust through transparent, efficient, and effective government, the Department of Commerce launched a new online tool through which the public can submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The interface, FOIAonline, will enable the public and departmental FOIA professionals to access an automated online tracking and records management system for the first time. Additionally, the system will eliminate the need for individuals to search for contact information when submitting requests for multiple agencies, thereby speeding up the FOIA process.

FOIAonline will also automatically provide tracking numbers for requests much like consumers use to track packages online. The requester can then view the status of the request online, eliminating the wait time for manual replies from agencies. Further, FOIAOnline will enable Commerce to publish FOIA documents in electronic format with the request, which will decrease the duplicate requests workload while allowing the public access to more information. This availability of additional information will allow greater detail for researchers, journalists and the public.

The U.S. Department of Commerce Celebrates the United States’s Entry into the Open Government Partnership

Commerce's OpenGov Banner

President Obama has made openness a high priority in his Administration, committing his Administration to an “unprecedented level of openness in Government” on his first full day in office. 

Since then, the Administration has:

  • disclosed more information requested under the Freedom of Information Act;
  • made voluminous information available on government websites;
  • used technology in innovative ways that harness government information to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

As President Obama today signs the Open Government Partnership declaration, the U.S. Department of Commerce is proud to highlight some of the ways that it has advanced America’s domestic open government agenda and created a more efficient and effective government through greater transparency, participation, and collaboration.

In 2010, the Census Bureau contributed more than 164,000 files to ensure that the Data.gov program met its first-anniversary goal of 250,000 data sets. The Census Bureau added data sets and tools including American FactFinder, the preeminent tool for accessing Census data; the intercensal Population and Housing Unit Estimates, the official numbers for non-decennial years; and the International Database, one of the most-frequently-requested pages on www.census.gov.

The Department is working to help raise awareness of existing programs and ongoing efforts that will benefit the American people in their everyday lives. One such example of these types of efforts is the NOAA Climate Services Portal. The NOAA Climate Services Portal improves access to high-value climate information to the public. The NOAA Climate Services Portal (NCSP), a collaborative cross-NOAA effort, was officially rolled out in prototype mode in February 2010. The NCSP offers a user-focused way for multiple audiences to access NOAA’s climate data, information, and services in a standards-based manner. While NOAA’s climate information is expansive, users have highlighted the need for a “one-stop-shop” that effectively organizes the information and makes it easy to find what is needed. Although in its current prototype mode the NCSP is just scratching the surface of what NOAA has to offer, plans call for continuing to add NOAA data, information, and services. Another key existing program that opens up government services to citizens is CommerceConnect.  CommerceConnect is a one-stop-shop to help U.S. businesses transform themselves into globally competitive enterprises, by connecting them with government information, counseling and services.

The White House's National Science and Technology Council Recognizes NIST and USPTO for Open Innovation Efforts

The White House's National Science and Technology Council Recognized Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for their open innovation efforts [PDF]. NIST's efforts to encourage market transparency and USPTO's leadership in public/private data access have the potential to scale within and across Federal agencies through interagency policy and implementation groups. By leading in this open government initiative, NIST and USPTO set the stage for entrepreneurs to out-innovate our international competitors and win the future.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was recognized for its efforts in democratizing government data, supporting President Obama's initiatives to usher in a new era in which the gap between the American people and their government would close. USPTO initially faced some problems in its effort to publish its data online in a free and open format. The Office had traditionally been providing data through a paid subscription service. It also didn't have funding for technology to publish information online in an open format that could easily be retrieved, downloaded, indexed and searched by commonly used web search applications.

The USPTO opted to partner with Google in a no-cost agreement in which Google agreed to disseminate USPTO's bulk electronic patent and trademark data to the public at no charge. The electronic data includes images and text of patent grants and published applications, trademark applications, patent classification information and patent and trademark assignments.

In the end, nearly two terabytes of data, representing patent and trademark data back to 1790, is now available to the public free of charge on Google, with some 13GB of new data added weekly.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology also received recognition for its efforts in encouraging market transparency with its ongoing coordination of standards for the Smart Grid, the next-generation U.S power grid currently under development. After being called upon by Congress in 2007 to take responsibility for this task, NIST, in collaboration with the Department of Energy, faced the challenge of ensuring the myriad products and services that could connect to the Smart Grid would be able to operate together seamlessly.

USPTO Teams With Google to Provide Bulk Patent and Trademark Data to the Public

Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) David Kappos announced today that the USPTO has entered into a no-cost, two-year agreement with Google to make bulk electronic patent and trademark public data available to the public in bulk form. Under this agreement, the USPTO is providing Google with existing bulk, electronic files, which Google will host without modification for the public free of charge.  This bulk data can be accessed at http://www.google.com/googlebooks/uspto.html.

"The USPTO is committed to providing increased transparency as called for by the President’s Open Government Initiative. An important element of that transparency is making valuable public patent and trademark information more widely available in a bulk form so companies and researchers can download it for analysis and research,” said Under Secretary Kappos. “Because the USPTO does not currently have the technical capability to offer the data in bulk form from our own Web site, we have teamed with Google to provide the data in a way that is convenient and at no cost for those who desire it.”

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Commerce Department Releases Open Government Plan

Screenshot of Commerce's Open Government Website

In response to President Obama’s Open Government Directive, the Department of Commerce released its first iteration of its Open Government Plan. The plan creates a process for making more data available to the public and identifies three flagship Open Government initiatives that help make the Commerce Department more accessible and interactive. In a blog post on the Department’s Open Government Web site, Secretary Gary Locke noted that the plan, “establishes clear goals and benchmarks for success, and lays the foundation for continued work on increasing openness, participation and collaboration at Commerce in the months and years to come.” (Open Government Plan) (Open Government Web site) (Secretary’s post)

Commerce Department Announces New Open Government Initiatives

U.S. Department of Commerce seal

The U.S. Commerce Department announced several initiatives that reflect President Obama’s commitment to increasing transparency and accountability in Washington and ensuring greater access and information for the American people. “President Obama took office with a call for unprecedented openness in government, and we are heeding that call,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Americans have a right to understand the decisions made by their government, and today’s announcement will shed important light on them.” (More)