U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks on the Power and Potential of Open Government Data


Monday, July 14, 2014

WASHINGTON – Today at the 2014 Esri International User’s Conference in San Diego, Calif., U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker discussed the Department of Commerce’s expanding role as “America’s Data Agency.” In her remarks, she described how the Commerce Department’s data collection – which literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun – not only informs trillions of dollars of private and public investments each year and plants the seeds of economic growth, but also saves lives.

Secretary Pritkzer outlined several new ways the Department of Commerce is working to unlock the potential of even more open data to make government smarter. For example, she announced that the Commerce Department plans to hire its first-ever Chief Data Officer. The Department’s International Trade Administration has also launched its “Developer Portal,” an online toolkit to put diverse sets of trade and investment data in a single place. In addition, the Commerce Department is creating a data advisory council, comprised of 15 private sector leaders that will advise the Department on the best use of government data.


Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you, Jack, for your generous introduction. Ever since you and Laura founded Esri 45 years ago, your company has been breaking down barriers – using geographic data to help businesses succeed. Perhaps the greatest tributes to your stunning success are found in the widespread use of GIS worldwide – and in the growth of this conference from 16 participants the first year to nearly 16,000 today.

Thank you to the entire Esri team for your commitment to a strong education for all children – exemplified by your leadership in the President’s ConnectED Initiative and your contribution of free ArcGIS software to K-12 students nationwide. Thank you to everyone here for bringing new innovations to the global economy.

For Esri, for the companies here, and for the Department of Commerce, the phrase “open data” has great meaning: we know that data can inform business decisions and be the seeds of economic growth. Yet for many Americans and families around the world, data is a somewhat distant concept. Many do not necessarily recognize its importance to their daily lives. But we know that data is more than obscure numbers on a page. Good data, deployed effectively, can save lives.

We saw the life-saving power of data last November 17th, in Washington, Illinois, as an F4 tornado was bearing down on the area. It was a Sunday, and hundreds of residents were sitting in church. Their cell phones started receiving alerts and text messages about the approaching storm from the National Weather Service – a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is a part of the Commerce Department. Church staff led everyone to storm shelters; they waited as they heard the tornado roll by. Once the worst was over, all of the people in those churches had survived; many of their homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, but they were safe. Tragically, only one person died, which of course is one too many. 

But in the wake of the tornado, it became clear that the National Weather Service’s warning, built on our data and rapidly deployed, saved lives by giving the residents of Washington 15 precious minutes to find shelter.

Just 25 years ago, Washington families may have had only 5 minutes to search for safety. But now, average tornado warning times have nearly tripled and tornado warning accuracy has roughly doubled. Put simply: today, there are more people alive in Washington and elsewhere, because we analyze data quickly and we get it out to the people who need it.

It is not hyperbole to call the Department of Commerce, “America’s Data Agency.” No other department can rival the reach, depth, and breadth of our data programs: Our data efforts are rooted in the Constitution, which laid the groundwork for the creation of the Census Bureau and the Patent and Trademark Office, two key data agencies housed at the Commerce Department.

225 years later, our data touch the lives of Americans every day. Our data enable start-ups, move markets, and empower companies large and small. Our data collection on climate literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun. Our data appear whenever we check the time on our cell phones. Our data can shape and redefine economic development, with information on GDP, personal consumption, and income.

In the words of Joel Gurin, the head of the Open Data 500 initiative at New York University: “The Department of Commerce provides data to more companies across all sectors of the economy than any other federal agency. Our research shows that the information economy is fueled by Commerce data.”

Data is a key pillar of our department’s “Open for Business Agenda.” For the first time, we have made it a department-wide strategic priority: to unleash more of our data to strengthen our economic growth; to make our data easier to access, understand, and use; to maximize return on investment for businesses, entrepreneurs, government, taxpayers, and communities.

Twenty-five years ago, the Commerce Department produced a data initiative central to Esri’s success: the TIGER program.TIGER mapping data became a key source of geographic information used by GIS professionals nationwide. In many ways, TIGER formed the foundation for the modern GIS industry – with Esri and its partners taking that data, devising a new way to capture and organize it, and making it accessible to more people. In short, TIGER is a key open data success story. But, as a government, we cannot be satisfied with our current data infrastructure.

There is so much more potential to tap – and more data to be unleashed – that will strengthen industry and expand economic opportunity for millions of Americans. Consider a recent McKinsey study, which found that open data in seven different sectors could help unlock more than $3 trillion in additional value to the global economy. You heard that right: $3 trillion. (And that could mean $1 trillion to the United States alone.) Realizing this data opportunity could create new products and services, provide cost savings, better information, transparency and convenience for consumers. It could mean improved health care outcomes, better job training and education for our young people, greater innovation in cutting-edge industries, improved energy efficiency and energy delivery, better transportation systems and more companies ready to export made-in-America goods.

Today, our Department is releasing a report on the value of federal government statistical programs, driving home a similar message: Our data inform decisions that help make government smarter, make businesses more competitive, make citizens better informed about their own communities – with the potential to guide up to $3.3 trillion in investments in the United States each year. Decennial Census and American Community Survey data alone guide $400 billion in federal spending annually.

Our report makes another essential point: the cost of government data is small relative to its benefits. The federal government spends roughly 3 cents per person, per day, collecting and disseminating statistical data. In other words, when it comes to data, taxpayers get tremendous bang for their buck.

The impact of our data investments is no doubt enormous for our businesses and our economy.

To give one example: last month, our Economic Development Administration, in partnership with Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, rolled out the U.S. Cluster Mapping and Registry Project, a database used by state and local governments, economic developers, and businesses to understand and shape the competitive landscape for a wide range of industries.

To see how this tool is already yielding benefits, we can look to Dalton Georgia, where Dalton State College is using mapping data to analyze regional business clusters. They dug into layers of economic information and uncovered new details about key sectors, from chemical manufacturing to building materials to transportation infrastructure. All told, Dalton unlocked a new set of data to inform its economic development strategy.

These data are being put in the hands of local officials, who are using the information to make strategic investments, recruit new companies, and lay the groundwork for new industries. In short, whether in Georgia or across the country, our cluster-mapping tool gives us the ability to reinvent and modernize economic development strategies – all driven by open data. To extend the reach of our data further, our Department is taking another step forward: with a new RFI to unlock more weather data.

Our weather data already forms the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry, seen daily in the form of the Weather Channel and AccuWeather and hundreds of other companies and apps. Yet the public has access to just 10 percent of NOAA’s more than 20 terabytes of data produced daily. We must make more of this information available. Because unlocking the full force of our weather and climate data can unleash new innovation and services in our economy.

We recognize there is tremendous potential value if we properly steward our rich and diverse data sets. But, to fully tap into that potential, we must partner with the private sector to make our data even more useful to businesses, communities, individuals, and decision makers of all types. We must build a common platform that ensures: greater technical capacity to liberate our data; an ability to combine data in ways that make them more valuable; and better overall service for our customers. We aspire to develop new suites of data products created to meet the needs of businesses, innovators, governments and others.

We are a startup as “America’s Data Agency,” but the Department of Commerce has the tools necessary to develop, test, and grow the next phase of the open data revolution. 

To demonstrate our firm commitment to this task, we are announcing today that we will hire the department’s first-ever Chief Data Officer. Our Chief Data Officer will be responsible for developing and implementing a vision for the future of our diverse data resources. Our Chief Data Officer will pull together a platform for all of our data sets; oversee improvements in data collection and dissemination; and ensure our data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic. Put simply, our Chief Data Officer will hold the key to unlocking more of our government data.

In addition, today we are announcing a number of other important data initiatives: First, our International Trade Administration has launched its “Developer Portal,” a toolkit to put diverse sets of trade and investment data in a single place, making it easier for businesses to use and better tap into the 95 percent of America’s customers that live outside the country. Second, we are creating a data advisory council, comprised of private sector leaders, to advise the department on the best use of government data. Third, on Wednesday, we’re hosting a special American Community Survey panel, here in San Diego – where we can exchange ideas, learn about how you put ACS data to use and how you believe we can effectively prioritize our investments in the ACS. I hope you can join us.

As we continue to develop our open data business plan and refine our approach, we must protect our core values of privacy and security in the context of the rapid pace of technological change. Earlier this year, the President convened a working group to conduct a comprehensive review of big data technologies. As a leader of this effort, I was honored to bring the perspective of business to the table, emphasizing the need for a sound legal framework for innovation.

All the participants in this effort, including the President himself, believe that as America leads the data revolution, we must always protect civil liberties and privacy; protect our networks and the free flow of information; and, protect and preserve trust.

The value of open data is not a new concept to me – and if you cannot tell already, I am a “data nut.” More than 25 years ago, when building my first startup, I used Census data to determine where to locate, open, and operate senior living facilities. From that experience, I learned firsthand that data could inform decisions and translate into business success. In my case, I am very proud that company alone employs more than 1,000 people today.

What I came to understand is, data is more than a set of numbers entered into a spreadsheet. Data can deliver better health outcomes. Data can generate increased economic growth. Data can drive innovation in our society – innovation that improves the lives of millions every day. I am proud to be part of an Administration that understands the strategic value of data, with a President who sincerely believes in the promise of open data. We are just beginning to scratch the surface; we are just starting to understand the broad possibilities of data.

Last November, we saw the human side of data in the wake of the massive tornado in Washington, Illinois. As one local pastor said, “having those emergency alert systems [were] instrumental in saving people’s lives.” Moving forward, our improved collection and use of data will surely save more lives in the face of horrific storms. Yet it can do even more for our society and our economy as a whole.

Unleashing the full force of our data will be a source of innovation, a cornerstone of economic opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurs, and a foundation of greater prosperity for millions of families.

As “America’s Data Agency,” we are ready to utilize our data to strengthen America’s future. But we cannot do it alone. Like any startup we need your help. You are the experts on the leading edge of our data-driven revolution. You have the knowledge and expertise to tell us where data is most useful to business and most valuable to our economic growth.

Working with all of you, we can bring the best of the public and private sectors together to lead the next great era of data innovation. We can make “open data” a centerpiece of our dynamic economy. We can ensure that our data meet their highest potential.

Thank you, Esri, and thank you all for your leadership and for serving as strong partners in unlocking our data.


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Last updated: 2014-07-14 17:30

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