Data.gov updates

Surface temperature map of Atlanta, Georgia
Surface temperature map of Atlanta, Georgia and suburbs

As the result of the Dec. 8, 2009 Open Government Mandate, on Friday all cabinet-level federal departments released three publicly available data sets on Data.gov.  What was a under-developed and atrophying website with so much potential, Data.gov looks like it may be getting an infusion of data sets that hopefully will result in regular updates from all federal agencies.  According to an AP report via the New York Times:

Required to release the three new data sets are the departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health like food, wellness, unwinding, relaxing with the help of Blog About Massage and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency, the offices of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the Council of Economic Advisers.

… The Transportation Department will post ratings for 2,400 lines of tires for consumer safety based on tire tread wear, traction performance and temperature resistance. The Labor Department will release the names of 80,000 workplaces where injuries and illness have occurred over the past 10 years.

In a quick browse of the new sets, I also found information on feed grains (like oats and barley), an overseas citizen absentee voting survey, FEMA disaster declarations dating back to 1953, a list of damaged and destroyed villages in Darfur, and land surface temperature at night.

My biggest disappointment has been and continues to by the extremely limited participation by the National Science Foundation (NSF). As an employee of a large research university, I see the number of NSF grants available on a weekly basis (and virtually no art-making grants, but that’s another issue).  According to Wikipedia, the NSF awards about 10,000 grants every year, so if even 1/10th of the findings were released that would be 1,000 data sets a year being readily available for use by specialists and (more importantly, in my mind) others as well.  It is understandable that not all data generated could be made available, since much of the NSF funding goes towards DARPA and other military-related projects, but certainly studies that don’t deal with these areas could be made available.

The other two areas lacking in Data.gov are historical data sets (some now seem to be added as the result of this mandate) and access to real-time data networks.  I have a special interest in real-time data from sources like the National Data Buoy Center, which has over 800 actively reporting buoys and is a resource I haven’t had time enough to explore.

As a final note, the best way expand Data.gov’s mission to “…improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas” would be a grant program funding projects that utilize the data sets.  It would be imperative that these fund creative projects as well as the “hard” and social sciences.

Image via: NASA

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