U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews Delivers Keynote Address at 4th Meeting of the Commerce Data Advisory Committee


Friday, May 6, 2016

Today, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews delivered the keynote address at the 4th Meeting of the Commerce Data Advisory Council (CDAC) held at the Google Headquarters in New York. The 19- member council of leading technologists and data leaders was created to provide the Department with advice and recommendations to revolutionize Commerce data, enabling the public and private sectors to gain new insights, innovate and create jobs.

During his remarks, Deputy Secretary Andrews discussed the Department’s role as “America’s Data Agency,” and updated the council on several key Departmental data projects, including the Trade Data Project and the Data Usability Project.

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you, Ian. Good morning everyone. It’s great to see so many familiar faces since we last met at the Commerce Law Library. First, I want to thank Google for playing host. I also want to express my gratitude, as well as that of Secretary Pritzker, to our Commerce Data Advisory Council co-Chairs: Kim Stevenson of Intel and Daniel Castro of the Center for Data Innovation. We are so appreciative of everyone who has contributed to CDAC’s success.

Let’s think back on our history for a moment. Two years ago, this council didn’t even exist.  The Department of Commerce collects enough data to fill two Library of Congresses every day, yet until very recently we didn’t even have a Chief Data Officer. Nor was data at the forefront of any sort of Department-wide strategy.

Today, we are in a much better place. Data is now a pillar in our Department-wide “Open for Business” strategic plan. We have Ian Kalin serving as Chief Data Officer, along with his Deputy, Tyrone Grandison.  We even have our first-ever Chief Data Scientist, Jeff Chen.  Never before has a federal agency made data a strategic priority. But doing so has made us better equipped to deliver on our mission: growing our economy and helping American businesses compete.

Once we recognized the huge role that data plays across the Department of Commerce, from the Patent Office to the Census Bureau to NOAA to the Minority Business Development Agency, we realized we were sitting on a proverbial gold mine. If the Department of Commerce aims to help American businesses compete in the 21st century, we must treat our treasure trove of data as a resource to be shared. Leveraging these resources is especially important now.

In today’s digital economy, data is transforming every industry. This reality was really driven home to me during my recent trip to Hannover, Germany. I was there with Secretary Pritzker and President Obama, leading the U.S. delegation to the Hannover Fair. The Hannover Fair is the world’s largest industrial trade show. But what I saw there was far more than manufacturers showing off their latest machinery. What I saw was digital disruption alive on the factory floor.

Throughout industry, we are witnessing the convergence of the physical with the digital. We are living in the fourth industrial revolution. Even some of the companies represented here today have transformed themselves to succeed in this new digital economy. We are moving towards a global economy where developers in Seattle win capital from investors in London, start factories in Kenya, and monitor production over cloud servers housed in North Carolina.

We have all heard the old phrase that in business, time is money. Well, in today’s digital economy, data is the thing that provides economic value. Data sets are valuable assets for entrepreneurs, businesses, and for institutions of all kinds. Yet big data cannot lead to big results if it is inaccessible and indecipherable.

That is why we started the Commerce Data Advisory Council: to gain private sector insights that could help us unleash our data not only for the good of society but also for the benefit of businesses and consumers.  Since our first meeting more than a year ago, we have taken your feedback and run with it.  We are truly living up to the moniker “America’s Data Agency.” Your input and guidance has been invaluable. But you don’t have to take my word for it. The proof is in the projects we have launched with the help of your insights.

I want to highlight some of the ways CDAC is changing how the Department of Commerce uses data.  Last year, you told us we needed to dramatically expand access to raw data, and partner with the private sector to do it. So we did. 

NOAA’s Big Data Project is a perfect example. Working with top cloud services providers, some of whom are here today, NOAA is opening up more of the astounding volumes of data it collects each day.  Last fall, we marked a major milestone when Amazon Web Services made NEXRAD atmospheric data free and open to the public for the first time.

CJ Moses from Amazon is with us today. Let’s give him a round of applause for his leadership. We also embraced your vision for making Commerce data more accessible.  Instead of keeping data siloed between our bureaus, we are presenting it in ways that make it relevant to real world needs. You told us that to the consultant trying to help a business decide where to open its next branch, it makes no difference whether the figures come from the Economic and Statistics Administration or the Census Bureau. What matters is that our data is easy to access and easy to use.

Take for instance the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s new Developer Hub. This site lets you pull patent data and combine it with totally different sources. Let’s say we have a data scientist working in the financial sector. He or she could match filing rates to geographical data in order to help investors identify regional trends.

Likewise, in March the White House helped us launch the Opportunity Project. The Opportunity Project combines Census data on income, education, and poverty with other sources to provide a holistic view of opportunity in America at the neighborhood level. For businesses, economic development organizations, and other institutions, these innovative data sets may shed light on challenges inequality and housing affordability.

CDAC also emphasized our need to better communicate the value of Commerce data to people in different fields. We are working to, as you said, “humanize the data.”  In January, we launched the Commerce Data Usability Project. Hosted at

https://www.commerce.gov/datausability/ and using open source tools like Github, coders are making engaging, easy-to-understand tutorials that showcase how companies and organizations are using Commerce data. With this project, we are reducing

data consumption-time down from months to hours. 

I was proud to show off some of these projects during my recent talk at the Strata Hadoop Data Conference in San Francisco. Take for instance the online real estate giant Zillow, who is also represented here today. Using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, Zillow is helping buyers find the home of their dreams in the community of their dreams.

Data is making an impact in the nonprofit world as well.  The environmental nonprofit Earth Genome is incorporating NOAA topography data into their wetlands restoration models. They use these models to encourage industry to make more sustainable decisions. Yet the Commerce Data Usability Project is more than a highlight reel. It is a vast resource for data scientists, programmers, and researchers looking to leverage our data.

Finally, one of the greatest lessons we have learned from CDAC is that the Department of Commerce must make data part of every bureau’s institutional muscle memory.  To accomplish this, last November Secretary Pritzker announced the first-ever Commerce Data Service, led by Chief Data Officer Ian Kalin’s team. We may never be able to run government exactly like a start-up. But we are so glad this start-up is up and running inside government.

The Data Service team is a talented, diverse group of innovators. Across Commerce, they are building new apps and tools to help staff achieve results. For example, the team is helping the International Trade Administration increase U.S. exports.  Helping American companies take advantage of the amazing opportunities that lie beyond our borders is ITA’s top priority. Yet identifying firms ready to take the leap into exporting remains a challenge.

To solve that challenge, the Commerce Data Service team is working on something we call the Trade Data Project.  Using machine-learning techniques to combine our existing datasets with data from the business world, the goal is to develop a predictive model for characteristics of successful exporters. The Trade Data Project may help ITA identify new leads and dramatically increase how many businesses we help become exporters.

In short, the Commerce Data Service team is raising the standard for what software can do for government. When done well, software can help government serve the public more effectively and more efficiently. Of course, we cannot rely on outside talent alone. We must also build skills from the bottom-up. From the start, CDAC has emphasized that a data-driven agency needs a data-driven workforce. So we undertook an effort to help more employees gain skills in the best practices of open source data and the digital economy.

This past February, we launched the Commerce Data Academy with guidance from CDAC. We brought some of the private sector’s most respected leaders in digital skills training to the table. Together, General Assembly, the Commerce Library, and LINC launched a jointly-run pilot project. We decided to offer four basic courses in areas like “HTML and CSS” and “Storytelling with Data” to gage the interest of Commerce employees.  The reception from our employees blew us away. We learned that staff across Commerce is hungry to learn the tools of digital economy. Over 3,500 employees have already signed up for this training. The demand for digital skills is clearly there and we are determined to meet it.

We are living in a time of unprecedented innovation. Our economy is evolving faster than ever. Thanks to CDAC, the Department of Commerce is evolving with it. Yet evolution is a long-term game. One generation alone cannot write a new gene into the next one’s DNA. Nor can one Administration forever change how government works.

In the coming months, the Obama Administration will wind down. That means CDAC must prepare for a transition in Administrations. So today I will ask three things of you in the coming months. First, to keep CDAC going strong we need you to be active partners throughout 2016.  Help us: get our latest data projects off the ground; highlight our successes to the media; and make our work known to industry leaders.

Secondly, I ask that you start thinking about CDAC 2.0. With a new Administration coming, it’s time to think about new goals, members, and governance structures. The sooner you tell us your vision for CDAC’s future, the sooner we can lay the groundwork for a successful transition. And finally, we ask you to be historians. The time is now for CDAC to document the lessons we have learned, the stories worth telling, and the best practices worth sharing. 

In just two years, CDAC has helped the Department of Commerce embrace data in everything we do. We cannot risk letting our progress get lost in the shuffle of a change of Administrations .The work of writing smart data into the Department of Commerce’s DNA is only just beginning. I want to thank all of you for the work you have done so far. Now, I ask that you help the Department of Commerce solidify its role and its future as “America’s Data Agency.” 

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Last updated: 2016-05-06 10:22

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