blog post by Mark
Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs
Big Data and Open Data are all the rage these days. However,
Commerce was into Big Data before Big Data was cool. As far back as 1790, we
began collecting data on patents in the U.S. and the Census Bureau conducted
the first Decennial Census the same year. In 1870, the National Weather
Service was created – which today is one of the biggest data producing agencies
Back then, our economy was based largely on
agriculture. Over the years, our economy evolved through the industrial
revolution, later giving rise to the strong service sector. Today, we are at
the nascent stages of the next era in our economic growth, the information age.
On a daily basis, there is an ever-increasing amount of data becoming
available, and the demand for data is increasing exponentially. We have
before us both great opportunity and fascinating challenges to understand how
best to harness this national resource. This is a key focus of Commerce’s Open
for Business Agenda.
You may not know it, but the Department of Commerce is home
to many agencies that are your primary source for data that you likely use
- How many people live in the U.S. or in your
hometown? You might know the Census
Bureau is the authority on population, but did you know the Census Bureau’s
data goes well beyond just population? Census also produces huge volumes of
data on our economy, demographics, and fascinatingly insightful data describing
our communities – or, if you are a business, your customers.
- The Bureau of
Economic Analysis is a little know agency that produces key economic data
and many of the closely watched economic indicators that move markets, drive
investment decisions and guide economic policy. Do you know which industries
are the leading sources of income in your community, or to your customers? BEA
data can tell you.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, or NOAA, is your primary source for weather, ocean and climate
data – they are collecting data every minute of every day from land, sea, and
even spaced-based sensors. When you hear the local forecast or hear about severe
weather warning, that is NOAA data informing you about your environment in real
- The National
Institute of Standards and Technology, locally known as NIST, is our
nation’s authority on broad swaths of scientific, cyber, and physical data –
including, officially, what time it is.
- We also have data on patents going back more
than 200 years at the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office, which is a gold mine of inspiration for innovation.
- Other agencies in Commerce provide data on economic
and the Internet.
On any given day, the Department will generate in excess of
20 terabytes of data, and sometimes much more. Yet, we think we can do more
with this resource. We want to take every step we can to open access to it to
the entrepreneurs and innovators of America, as we are pretty convinced that
there is huge unmet value and potential. We understand that a huge part of the
value of data is when it is not seen alone, but as part of a rich tapestry of
information. We believe that there is great opportunity to solve problems,
innovate new businesses, and improve data-driven decision-making, and we are
committed to that path.
That is why I was so glad to be a part of today’s launch of
the Open Data 500 Project,
housed out of the GovLab at NYU. This exciting project has verified what we
were certain must be true: That hundreds of American companies are using
Commerce data every day to innovate and deliver important goods and services to