Posted at 1:26 PM
Today, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews delivered keynote remarks at the Strata + Hadoop Conference, one of the largest gatherings of technology, data and web development professionals in the United States.
During his remarks, Deputy Secretary Andrews discussed the Commerce Department’s role as “America’s Data Agency,” and urged all those using the Department’s data to share why open data is so important. Deputy Secretary Andrews also announced new projects from the newly formed Commerce Data Service, including new private sector collaborations for the Commerce Data Usability Project, and the launch of the New Exporters Project.
Remarks As Prepared For Delivery
Thank you, Roger, for the kind introduction, and good morning, everyone.
As the second in command to Secretary Penny Pritzker at the Department of Commerce, I have to spend a lot of my time explaining to people exactly what our department does. Commerce is a large agency composed of 12 bureaus that, at first glance, don’t seem particularly related to one another: from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to the Census Bureau; from the Minority Business Development Agency to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to the International Trade Administration.
But what ties all of these disparate agencies together – aside from our singular mission to create the conditions for economic growth across the country – is our treasure trove of data. Each day, every one of you uses our data without even knowing it. To prove my point, I’d like you all to pull out your cell phones.
Before you even unlock your phone, you’ve already used our data by looking at the time – which is generated by our National Institute of Standards and Technology, the keepers of our country’s atomic clock. If you want to check the weather outside, that’s our data, too – courtesy of the National Weather Service. Want to use the Starbucks app to order a latte? Chances are the nearest store location was chosen using demographic data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Put simply: the Department of Commerce is “America’s Data Agency.” No other department can rival the reach, depth, and breadth of our data programs. Our data is a rich source of information ranging from the economy to demographics to the environment. Indeed, our data collection on climate literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun.
But we have a problem. Consider this: of the 20 terabytes of data that NOAA gathers every day – twice the amount of data of the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress – only a small percentage is easily accessible to the public. The government can play an important role in fostering more data innovation if we make the best use of these resources. That is why we need to do a much better job of making our data easy to find, understand, and access.
To achieve this, we made data a key pillar of our Department’s strategic plan. This is the first time ever any government agency has elevated data production and dissemination to this level. We recognize that it’s not enough to simply open up data sets. We must make our data as useful and accessible as possible to developers and technologists, so that people like you can use it to create fantastic new products and services. Put simply: we want to unleash our data, so you can use it in new and exciting ways to generate societal benefits and economic value.
By making it a core element of our strategic plan, we’ve been able to focus our efforts to make our department – and the federal government as a whole – more data-driven. To start, we hired Ian Kalin, our first Chief Data Officer. A veteran of both the U.S. Navy and the startup tech world, he’s helping to drive our efforts to incorporate data science thinking across each of our bureaus. Next we brought on board Dr. Tyrone Grandison as our Deputy Chief Data Officer. Ty brings a robust background as an entrepreneur and a software engineer, as well as expertise on security and privacy issues.
Many of you know DJ Patil, the White House’s Chief Data Scientist. Our Department hired the first federal agency Chief Data Scientist, Jeff Chen. Jeff came to us after serving at NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the New York City Fire Department. His role is to supercharge our data projects to improve the way people and businesses interact with the department.
Ian, Ty, and Jeff all found their way to government service through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. I highly recommend you all consider public service through this program. Our government needs people like you, who understand data and who can help government update and modernize the way we deliver our data to the public.
To guide the great work being done by our team, we created the Commerce Data Advisory Council. Made up of 19 leaders from some of the biggest tech and data companies in the world – including Palantir, Code for America, and Amazon Web Services – this group functions like a board of directors. They help us to identify the challenges we face, guide us towards solutions based on industry best practices, and provide a vision for a future in which government keeps pace with the speed of business.
We also recently launched the Commerce Data Service – the first such group housed within a federal agency. This impressive team of entrepreneurs and data experts from across the government and Silicon Valley supports each of the Department’s twelve bureaus as they incorporate data science to make their work more impactful, targeted, and cost effective.
The Commerce Data Service is the real deal. They’re building great products that are opening up more data for more people, and developing tools to help our agencies more effectively achieve their missions. For example, working with our Census Bureau, we just announced the Opportunity Project. By combining income, education, and poverty data in new ways, we’re providing a holistic view of opportunity in America at the neighborhood level – which may provide new insights into how we tackle challenges like income inequality. This effort is producing game-changing products that will help us to open up more data.
In January, we launched the Commerce Data Usability Project. One of the challenges we’ve faced so far in our data push is that few people know the extent of our data sets. And even fewer know how to build innovative, useful tools from them. Through the Data Usability Project, data scientists and software engineers are developing use cases and data visualization tools to showcase the range of our data sets. They’re also using open source tools like Github to explain how these visualizations are created. We’re using this project to collaborate with our private sector and non-profit partners to showcase their uses of our data. We want to make it easy for everyone to learn and build from their examples.
Today, I’m thrilled to unveil a new round of these collaborations. Mapbox, the online mapping platform, is providing a tutorial on how to use NOAA’s rainfall data to help us understand our environment better and improve forecasts. Zillow is using Census income data to map housing affordability across the country. They’re looking at local salary information for emergency service personnel to show how much of their income they should expect to pay for mortgages in different cities.
Earth Genome, an environmental nonprofit, is illustrating how to get started with NOAA’s topography data — a fundamental element in their wetlands restoration model for informing industrial investment decisions. These are just a few examples of how our data can be used. The open code available on the Github pages for each of these tutorials allow users to build on these examples and to gain additional insight from this data.
We’re still in the early days of this project, and we want more people to share how they’re using Commerce data. If you’ve got a great idea, we want to hear it. Visit www.commerce.gov/datausability to submit an idea to our team. Or you can fork us on Github.
Another project that we’re particularly excited about is our effort to use data to increase U.S. exports. Today, more than 96 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. Yet too many companies fail to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that lie beyond our borders.
At the Department of Commerce, we’re responsible for helping American businesses reach new markets through our International Trade Administration. We are trying to change the DNA of American businesses to think about exports from the beginning. For example, our Top Markets Reports combines export data with our industry expertise to project exports into the future. The sector-specific reports allow exporters to focus on those markets where they will be most competitive. Across the country, there are a large number of export-ready businesses that could benefit from ITA’s services. But some of these businesses are more likely to export than others, and it can be difficult to identify pockets of opportunity.
To solve this challenge, our Data Service team is using machine-learning techniques to combine our existing datasets with private sector business datasets. This will allow us to develop a predictive model for characteristics of successful exporting businesses. The New Exporters Project will enable us to dramatically increase the number of businesses we help to become exporters. With trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership – or TPP – creating new opportunities abroad, this service could substantially increase the level of exports to new and emerging markets, helping to grow U.S. businesses and our economy as a whole.
The Data Usability and New Exporters projects are just some of our initial products. I know many of you are familiar with the NOAA Big Data Project – our effort to harness the petabytes of data NOAA collects each year and host that information in an open and collaborative format. We’re also working with our Patent and Trademark Office to modernize their datasets. Being able to produce patent applications in machine-readable formats will make searches easier.
Overall, we are seeing great value in our data efforts so far. Every part of our Department is starting to take a “think about the data” first approach to their work, and are making sure the information they post is done in a way that is open and accessible. But if we’re going to truly change the way we operate, we need to see open data institutionalized within our Department. To start, we are making the Commerce Data Service a permanent fixture, so it can continue to make our data usable for everyone.
But many people don’t appreciate how critical government data is to their jobs and daily lives. We need all of you to speak up about why open data is so important. Let the world know why it needs to remain a priority not only for the Department of Commerce but across the federal government. Be vocal about how you use our data, and let us know what we can do better.
As “America’s Data Agency,” we are using our data to spur innovation and greater prosperity across the country. Working with all of you – the leaders of our data-driven revolution – we can enable government data to continue transforming the way we go about our daily lives. We can use data to accelerate economic growth and create a better, more efficient world. Together, we can truly lead the next great era of data innovation. Thank you.