AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Celebrating the OPEN Government Data Act

This blog post is part of a blog series on “Open Data for Public Good,” a collaboration between the AWS Institute and AWS Open Data aimed at identifying emerging issues around open data and offering best practices for data practitioners. You can read the full series here.


This week, the bipartisan Open, Permanent, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act officially became law in the United States, requiring that non-sensitive data produced by US federal agencies be made publicly available in non-propriety and machine-readable formats by default. We have long supported this legislative proposal since it was first introduced in 2016, and commend both the Congressional leaders and the Administration for their commitment to making open data a priority.

Open and machine-readable data helps our customers innovate and grow. AWS customers like Quorum, Intertrust, DigitalGlobe, Climate Corporation, and data.world use government data to create their products and services. Many of our public sector customers within the government also benefit from having easier access to data from other government agencies.

Having more open data will also be useful to train rising generations of data scientists and analysts. Access to data at no cost allows educators to create coursework that gives students opportunities to learn real-world data science. Many government datasets are currently available for anyone to use on the AWS Cloud through the AWS Public Dataset program, and they are often used to produce tutorials and training materials to help people learn data analysis and application development skills.

As we wrote in Why Share Data?, the best way to get value out of data is to make it available to as many people as possible. This new law will help expand access to government data and ensure that it is used to its fullest potential.

What’s Next

Now that open data is law, agencies will develop operations that allow them to share data efficiently, securely, and usefully. Sharing data, as mentioned in How to Share Data, requires more than just making it available for download or creating an API to access it. In many ways, sharing data is similar to shipping a software product. Just like software, data is made up of digital information; it requires documentation; it will be used by groups of users who may require support; and it may become vital to those users’ work.

The OPEN Government Data Act will encourage more experimentation and innovation from agencies seeking to make their data as useful as possible. At AWS, we constantly work to create cloud services that make it easier for our customers to share any volume of data with as many (or as few) people as they want. We are honored to work with NASA, NOAA, and the NIH to experiment and find best practices for sharing data efficiently and securely. Regardless of the technologies used, sharing data works best when data providers are able to communicate with their data users and provide data in ways that are most useful to them.

The law will also spur organizations to pay more attention to the role of the chief data officer. Many agencies have already created new roles within their organizations to manage data sharing. Last year, we hosted a small roundtable discussion with chief data officers from various levels of government and learned that their roles vary widely and encompass a massive range of responsibilities (Listen to the podcast for more insights here). The entire nation will benefit from having more public servants dedicated to ensuring that data produced by the government is being used for the public good.

The passage of this law is the result of years of work done by dedicated public servants, activists, academics, and interested citizens. The fact that the proposal has endured and remained largely unchanged since it was introduced is evidence that open data is truly a bipartisan issue. As it is implemented, we are excited to see how it will promote more citizen engagement, more innovation, and more data-driven decision making across the government.

Find out more

You can learn how organizations are putting data to work by opening it on AWS at https://opendata.aws.