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Next Steps in our Efforts to Promote Open Government at HHS

Summary: 
Sunshine Week offers a great opportunity to share some exciting strides we are making toward promoting greater levels of openness and transparency.

The three pillars of Open Government -- transparency, collaboration and participation -- are critical to achieving our mission of providing all Americans with the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives. Sunshine Week offers a great opportunity to share some exciting strides we are making at the Department of Health and Human Services toward promoting greater levels of openness and transparency.

In our effort to champion Open Government practices, HHS is expanding public access to financial data and to the results of our funded scientific research. 

As outlined in our most recent HHS Open Government Plan, all HHS Operating Divisions are actively engaged in releasing data, engaging user communities, and building tools that can support the public’s ability to use our data.  One of our most notable accomplishments is the Health Data Initiative, a massive effort to unlock the vault of data that our agencies collect or maintain.  To date, HHS has made over 1,800 datasets accessible to the public through healthdata.gov

Our goal now is to maximize the value of HHS information by ensuring that our stakeholders have access to the fullest spectrum of health and human service data in formats that are readily consumable and lend themselves to meaningful re-use. 

Two of our newest initiatives have the potential to revolutionize the way in which HHS data are utilized and consumed:

  1. Providing Access to HHS Spending Data Across the Financial Lifecycle

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) of 2014 requires all federal agencies, including HHS, to publish expenditures online and in standardized machine-readable formats. This law will have the ability to tie spending to results. Spending must be reported on USAspending.gov, a federal open data portal, so that consumers can follow the complete life cycle of federal spending – from appropriations to the disbursements of grants, contracts and administrative spending. 

In implementing an initiative as enormous as this, it is important to ensure affected parties have the ability to comply with new rules and regulations.  HHS is leading a two-year pilot, in which it will test the application of data standards to grantee reporting, and explore the benefits of standardized reporting.

  1. Expanding Access to the Results of Our Funded Scientific Research

Government funding of research is critical for the scientific ecosystem. It is typically aimed at early stage research, usually not funded by the private sector.  Last week, HHS released its public access plans for making the results of our government-funded research freely available to the public.  This will include making peer-reviewed publications stemming from HHS funded scientific research freely available as well as the underlying data supporting these publications. 

We anticipate our public access efforts will vastly increase the store of knowledge gleaned from HHS research funding by building upon the National Institutes of Health’s existing Public Access Policy and increasing the over 3 million articles that are already available via the National Library of Medicine’s Pub Med Central (PMC). These efforts will allow us to expand our holdings to new fields such as public health research, emergency preparedness, and comparative effectiveness.  As the contents of PMC grow, we believe it will create more opportunities for new connections to be made among disparate fields of scientific inquiry, and new types of insights that can benefit health and health care.

Chief FOIA Officer Report

Finally, the Freedom of Information Act programs within HHS are one of the many important functions that contribute to the Department achieving its Open Government mission.  Details of the many FOIA initiatives in the 2015 report are available at the HHS FOIA Requester Service Center.

Importance of Stakeholder Engagement

Increasing the usefulness of HHS data and information products is not something we can do alone.  Stakeholder feedback will be critical to helping us design a data infrastructure and information ecosystem that allow us to collectively improve the health and welfare of all Americans.

Creating openness and transparency at HHS is not a sprint but a marathon.  We are proud of our recent initiatives and remain focused and steadfast in our commitment to enable the public to better understand what we are doing and why.

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