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Blog Category: Open Government

International Statistical Update: Health- and Education-Related Travel Now Part of Travel Services

Cross-post, Bureau of Economic Analysis

You may have noticed some data on international travel services look a little bit different. With the release of the monthly trade report on June 4, spending on health- and education-related travel are now counted in the travel services category. Previously, both were included in a category called “other personal services.”

Expenditures on goods and services by border, seasonal, and other short-term workers, which were also previously included in other private services, are reclassified to travel as well.

While this change alone will not affect the overall trade balance, the category measuring travel services – both imports and exports – will be larger. However, BEA will also report quarterly on health- and education-related travel separately from other more traditional business and personal travel so that users can track travel spending in several ways. You can see the new travel services category as well as the subcategories in a new table that will be available on June 18. A template is available now.

This change is part of the Comprehensive Restructuring of BEA’s International Economic Accounts, which we discussed in a recent blog post.

An example of health-related travel is when a foreign person travels to the United States for surgery. In this case, health-related travel exports would include the cost of medical procedures the person receives, in addition to any accommodations and other expenses he or she incurs in the United States.

An example of education-related travel is when a foreign person travels to the U.S. to attend school here. In this case, education-related travel exports would include all costs the foreign student incurs in the United States, including tuition at a U.S. institution. Like other changes to BEA’s international accounts, moving health- and education-related travel to the travel services category brings the U.S. international accounts into closer harmony with data produced by our trading partners and was a recommendation of the International Monetary Fund’s Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual, 6th edition.

Department of Commerce Open Government Plan Version 3.0 Published

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Guest blog post by Dr. Catrina Purvis, Chief Privacy Officer and Director of Open Government

On January 21, 2009, President Obama issued the first executive memorandum of his Administration, entitled “Transparency and Open Government.”  This memorandum established three guiding principles for the conduct of government activities.  Government should be transparent.  Government should be participatory.  Government should be collaborative.

The Department of Commerce (the Department) is fully committed to these principles, and we are pleased to present the 2014 Department of Commerce Open Government Plan, version 3.0 (the Plan).  The Plan is updated annually, and this release represents its fifth publication.  It builds on the Department’s long history of information dissemination and the adoption of new tools and technology to facilitate a more transparent and accessible agency.  The Department will continue to encourage and strive for increased participation and collaboration among its employees, with other government agencies and the American people. 

This year’s Plan provides an overview of the Department’s new 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, describes Department program and functional areas which are critical to Open Government, features three “flagship” Open Government initiatives, and highlights Open Government happenings of ongoing initiatives and activities across the Department’s Bureaus and Operating Units (BOUs). It is available on the Department’s Open Government website at www.commerce.gov/open.

We invite the American public to join in as the Department moves toward becoming a more open and effective provider of government services and information. Please feel free to provide feedback by submitting comments to open[at]doc[dot]gov.

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)