3. Transparency & Data Sharing
During the past year, HHS has made great strides in its efforts to enhance transparency and data sharing at the Department. Notable highlights include the fulfillment of many of our commitments to release new, high-value data sets and tools, plus the release of substantial additional data assets beyond what we committed to do in our plan; improvements in the quality of HHS financial data made available to the public; and a 53% reduction in our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) backlog. These efforts are further elaborated on in the following sections.
Provided below is a table summarizing the current status of the HHS high-value datasets and tools that we committed to release in our Open Government Plan:
CMS Dashboard (inpatient + prescription drug)
Medicare claim “basic files” for 9 major categories of care services – the first-ever claim-level files available for free public download
New user interface/analytical tool/APIs for provider quality COMPARE data at data.medicare.gov
Medicaid State Plan documents
New Medicare community-level indicators of prevalence of disease, prevention, health care quality, and utilization of services to be supplied to the Health Data Initiative
Summary data from FDA’s reportable food registry
FDA recall data downloadable in XML format
Administration on Aging Annual National Survey of Older Americans Act – raw data set
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention BioSense Condition-Specific Data
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Dashboard
Below are additional details on the new FDA data assets in particular:
- Reportable Food Registry: in Q2 FY 2011, FDA posted new summary aggregate data resulting from the first year of the Reportable Food Registry at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodSafetyPrograms/RFR/default.htm. The FDA Reportable Food Registry contains information about foods for which there is a reasonable probability that the article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death. Regulated industry submits reportable food reports to FDA for possible inclusion in the Registry via an electronic portal. Federal, state, and local government officials may also voluntarily use the electronic portal to report information that may come to them about reportable foods. FDA posts annual reports summarizing certain aggregate data from the Registry online. FDA will continue to design, develop and deploy annual aggregated data reports through information submitted to the Reportable Food Registry.
- FDA Recalls Website: FDA has created a new section of the FDA Web site for agency data sets including data sets for recall information. The new section can be found at http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/OpenGovernment/default.htm. The new section includes all available downloadable data for major recalls from 2009 to present based on information provided by firms in press releases, including data on the recent Shell Egg recall. The new gateway features data sets in XML format, which allows developers to easily create applications and mashups centered around FDA data. The data may also be available in other formats such as Excel and PDF. This new section became available on September 30, 2010.
In addition, in February 2011, HHS launched a new community on Data.gov, Health.Data.gov, that serves as a one-stop resource containing the following: (a) listing free, publicly available health-related data sets and tools available from HHS and other agencies, (b) an “apps expo” containing examples of health data-powered apps and services, (c) an online forum to discuss health data, and (d) a listing of non-federal open health data sets. HealthData.gov currently lists 241 data sets and tools (190 from HHS), with more being added on a continuous basis. Notable new resources made available through HealthData.gov (in addition to the new high-value data sets and tools listed in the table above) include the Health Indicators Warehouse (at healthindicators.gov), deployed in February 2011 and which contains over 1,170 metrics of community health and health care performance across the country (available for download or accessible via a web services API); Medline Plus Connect, a powerful new service deployed in November 2010 that serves up customized packages of patient education content from the vast Medline Plus library to electronic health records and personal health records; and much, much more.
Three additional data transparency actions over the past year are worthy of note:
- HealthCare.gov: HealthCare.gov is a new website launched by HHS in July 2010 that helps consumers take control of their health care -- by putting the power of information at their fingertips. It is the first website to provide a comprehensive catalog of both public and private health insurance options across the U.S. in a single, easy-to-use tool for consumers. Based on your answers to a series of questions, the site automatically produces a personalized menu of insurance options that may be right for you -- drawing on information compiled by HHS on thousands of private health insurance plans (including detailed pricing and benefit information, and never-before-seen information such as the percentage of applications for a given insurance product that are denied) and on every Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and pre-existing condition insurance plan in the country. HealthCare.gov puts consumers in charge by providing a one-stop resource that takes much of the guesswork and confusion out of finding the right coverage -- making the insurance marketplace more open and transparent than ever before. In addition, the site also provides information that helps consumers find high quality care providers and prevention tips that can help them stay healthy. Since its launch on July 1, 2010, HealthCare.gov has received over 6 million visits, with visitors spending an average of ten minutes on the site, and has won widespread praise for its usefulness as a consumer tool from voices ranging from Consumer Reports to the American Heart Association. The HealthCare.gov team has worked to continually refine and improve the site, with the help of ongoing user input, gathered through “yellow bubbles” that are placed throughout HealthCare.gov, asking if users found a particular page useful, and inviting suggestions on how to improve it. “Yellow bubble” input is reviewed weekly and utilized to determine how to make HealthCare.gov even more useful.
- “Blue Button:” the Blue Button initiative is a joint venture between the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), HHS, and US Department of Defense, in which these three agencies have collectively undertaken the simple but powerful action of allowing veterans, Medicare beneficiaries, and members of the military to freely and easily download electronic copies of their own personal health information or claims (by simply hitting a newly installed “Blue Button” on the VA, Medicare, and military’s patient/beneficiary websites). Deployed in October 2010, the “Blue Button” capability has already been utilized by over 310,000 unique users (including over 75,000 unique Medicare beneficiaries).
- Sustainability Efforts and Outcomes: Executive Order 13514 of October 8, 2009 titled Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance set sustainability goals and planning requirements for federal agencies. Additionally, it established a policy requiring agencies’ efforts and outcomes in implementing the order to be transparent and disclosed on publicly available federal websites. In 2010 HHS developed its first Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan (SSPP) for implementing the order and issued an updated SSPP in June 2011, which described HHS’s 2010 outcomes, planned efforts and related transparency initiatives. These initiatives included publication of the SSPP and a scorecard showing progress in meeting sustainability goals on the publicly accessible HHS and OPDIV internet websites and social media platforms, and using other established Open Government initiatives such as HHSinnovates to incentivize innovations needed to meet sustainability goals. These sustainability initiatives were developed concurrently with the HHS Open Government Plan and will be fully integrated into the Plan in 2011.
HHS has made tremendous progress in meeting the goals of the HHS Open Government Financial Data Quality Plan. Since the launch of Open Gov in December 2009, the Office of Grants and Acquisition Policy and Accountability within the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources has partnered with HHS awarding agencies, OMB, government-wide taskforces and workgroups, and the public to make HHS data more useful, complete, accurate, and timely. Key highlights of our progress on the Open Gov Financial Data Quality Update include:
Improving Financial Data Quality posted to the Web
- Completed a 2011 assessment to certify the accuracy and completeness of contract data submitted to the Federal Procurement Database-Next Generation system.
- Instituted new policy and procedures for reviewing Recovery Act data released to the public and the Recovery Act Transparency Board including leveraging SharePoint technology to reduce burden and cost for data quality reviews.
Engaging the Public in New Participation and Collaboration Efforts
- Met with the Sunlight Foundation to discuss concerns for USASpending.gov data quality and to open dialogue for defining appropriate metrics for performance.
- Developed new functionality for the NEW Tracking Accountability in Government Grants System (TAGGS) web-site at http://taggs.hhs.gov/ to solicit public feedback and to track, monitor, and evaluate data quality recommendations and comments from the user community.
Improving and Increasing Transparency and Accountability of Federal Funds
- Closed identified data quality gaps for CMS Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage, Hospital Insurance, and Supplementary Medical Insurance programs submitting over $1 trillion dollars in spending data to USASpending.gov.
- Performed a large scale re-design of the TAGGS web-site at http://taggs.hhs.gov/ to provide the public better tools for accessing HHS grant data. Features of the web-site include updated search capability; improved navigation, look, and feel; and increased spending reports.
Throughout 2010, HHS achieved major FOIA backlog reductions. After several components launched backlog reduction projects, HHS’s total backlog decreased by over 53 percent. Across HHS, the major operating components continue to evaluate their FOIA processes and to look for areas to improve. Several offices are considering a joint collaboration involving information technology, and evaluating how it can be utilized to enhance FOIA request processing to make it faster, easier, and more user-friendly.
HHS has undertaken a number of initiatives in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) operations in line with the Open Government plan. For example, FOIA Officers and other officials have taken steps to inform HHS staff members of the President’s and the Attorney General’s policy concerning the presumption of openness through distribution of the memoranda and continued training in its application. One major effort was the first Department-wide FOIA conference, which included training for junior staff, and more advanced subjects and discussion for the HHS’ FOIA Officers and senior staff.
A number of HHS operating components report renewed efforts to instill the spirit of openness in their daily processing of FOIA requests. The FOIA offices are working with program staff to increase proactive disclosures by identifying materials responsive to FOIA requests. HHS now posts a variety of information that used to be available only by making a FOIA request, including Office of the Inspector General reports, audits, and testimony; various community health center information; and a broad variety of FDA reports and Advisory Committee Meeting minutes.