trunk supports lush commercial branches.11 Comparative studies show that the U.S. government’s open information policies have contributed significantly to the U.S. information industry.12 Federal government policy should continue to prevent agencies from claiming any proprietary interest in data and should continue to provide unrestricted access to public information by the commercial sector and others.

The foregoing considerations are subject to three caveats or conditions:

  1. Public provision should take place at the lowest government level that includes all potential users. To avoid taxing one group of citizens to benefit another, geographic data should be provided by the lowest level of government that embraces all potential users.13 For very small groups, government may not be needed at all. Instead, agencies might encourage those outside of government to pool their resources and control free riding by entering into intragroup contracts and organizations.

  2. Government should not make technical choices in anticipation of secondary and tertiary uses. Technical specifications for government data should be based on the needs of the procuring agency and its participating stakeholders.14 Government does not have sufficient information to choose the best solution for complex technical problems that are outside its domain. Privately held information about potential downstream uses of government data in the marketplace is best elicited and supplied by the private commercial sector.

  3. Government should not try to anticipate consumer preferences. Government should procure data that meet its existing needs and those of its stakeholders as defined by its mandates and missions. It is difficult and often counterproductive to anticipate the number

11  

NRC, 2001, Resolving Conflicts Arising from the Privatization of Environmental Data, Washington, D.C., National Academies Press.

12  

See Chapter 4, Section 4.3.

13  

As noted in Chapter 6, however, it must be recognized that it may be difficult to apply this principle when, as is often the case, the potential beneficiaries cannot be identified in advance.

14  

It is entirely appropriate for an agency to develop technical specifications with its collaborators, partners, and known stakeholders.



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