In Depth Department of Commerce

Published on September 27th, 2013 | by Daniel Castro


The Department of Commerce Should Establish an Office of Data Innovation

The importance of data to the U.S. economy continues to grow. For example, in the United States the economic value from health care data is estimated at $300 billion annually, while $90 billion is generated from global positioning system (GPS) data, and $10 billion from weather data. And these examples just scratch the surface of the potential for data to transform a wide range of sectors including energy, education, finance, health care, manufacturing, and transportation.

Unfortunately, while President Obama has signed an historic executive order on open data and various government agencies have begun to promote data-driven innovation within their communities, such as the successful Health Datapalooza, there is still no federal government agency responsible for developing and implementing a national strategy to promote data-driven innovation across all sectors of the economy. To help fill this void, the Department of Commerce should establish an Office of Data Innovation.

The Office of Data Innovation would be responsible for facilitating data sharing between organizations and reducing barriers to global information flows. It would evaluate the impact of data-related regulations on competition and innovation in different industries, work with other nations to improve international frameworks for sharing data across borders, and help develop open, global standards for data. It would also streamline data sharing in the private sector by developing model data sharing contracts and supporting open data efforts at the state and local level.

In addition, the Office of Data Innovation would facilitate development of next-generation online educational resources for data scientists, such as creating a complete curriculum of open online courses in a broad array of areas such as data analytics, statistics, programming, machine learning, natural language processing, and data visualization. Such an effort could help open new opportunities for workers and expand the availability of interdisciplinary, data-literate workers for U.S. companies.

Finally, the Office of Data Innovation would be responsible for reducing technological barriers to data-driven innovation. It would set priorities for technological research on relevant topics such as data analytics and data storage, as well as privacy and security technologies. By partnering with different stakeholders in academia and the private sector, it could develop a research and development (R&D) roadmap for each of these areas to ensure that federal research dollars are directed at the most pressing challenges in the public and private sectors. For example, with regards to privacy, it could recommend that the National Science Foundation prioritize research funding in areas such as data de-identification, privacy-preserving data mining, secure, multi-party authentication, and interoperable digital credentials.

The mission of the Department of Commerce is to promote job growth, economic development, and an improved standard of living for all Americans, and it does this by facilitating access to global markets, promoting research and development of innovative technologies, and managing and monitoring national resources and assets. To be effective, it must continuously adapt to changing conditions. As many have argued, data is the new oil, and so the Department of Commerce should search for more opportunities to unlock the potential of this increasingly valuable national resource.

Photo credit:  Tim Evanson

About the Author

Daniel Castro is the director of the Center for Data Innovation and vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Mr. Castro writes and speaks on a variety of issues related to information technology and internet policy, including data, privacy, security, intellectual property, internet governance, e-government, and accessibility for people with disabilities. His work has been quoted and cited in numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, USA Today, Bloomberg News, and Businessweek. In 2013, Mr. Castro was named to FedScoop’s list of “Top 25 most influential people under 40 in government and tech.” In 2015, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Mr. Castro to the Commerce Data Advisory Council.Mr. Castro previously worked as an IT analyst at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) where he audited IT security and management controls at various government agencies. He contributed to GAO reports on the state of information security at a variety of federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). In addition, Mr. Castro was a Visiting Scientist at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he developed virtual training simulations to provide clients with hands-on training of the latest information security tools. He has a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an M.S. in Information Security Technology and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

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