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U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Bruce Andrews Discusses Data Innovation at BSA: The Software Alliance Event

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews yesterday participated in “Data Myths and Realities,” an event convened by BSA | The Software Alliance at The National Press Club. During his remarks, Deputy Secretary Andrews discussed the power of government data, U.S. Commerce Department efforts to unleash more of its data, and how data is fueling private sector innovation and growing the economy. 

The Department of Commerce is “America’s Data Agency.” From the Census Bureau’s economic and demographic statistics to NOAA’s weather and climate information - government data touches every American and informs business decisions every single day. 

The Commerce Department is committed to working with industry and other partners to strengthen innovation and data and, for the first time, the Department has made data a strategic priority. As a key pillar in the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda,” the data goals are to release more of our data to strengthen economic growth; to make our data easier to access and use; and, to maximize return on investment for businesses, entrepreneurs, government, taxpayers and communities. To reach those goals, the Department recently hired a deputy Chief Data Officer and plans to bring on its first ever Chief Data Officer in the coming weeks. In addition, Secretary Pritzker recently announced the establishment of a Data Advisory Council – currently accepting applications – to bring together thought leaders to help with the Department’s data revolution. 

In addition to Deputy Secretary Andrews, the following experts participated in the panel discussion: Victoria Espinel, President & CEO, BSA; John Nesi, VP Market Development, Rockwell Automation; and Dr. Jane Snowdon, Chief Innovation Officer, IBM Federal. The event is part of The National Press Club’s Newsmaker series. 

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery 

Thank you, Victoria. I want to thank BSA for hosting this panel today and congratulate them on the release on their new executive survey. 

I also want to congratulate Chonly Wang, Chris Ryan, and Zach Ziemba, from the OnWire Consulting Group on winning the IBM Federal Bluemix Federal Challenge. 

It’s great to be here with everyone today to talk about one of my favorite topics – the power of data. 

One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with and talk about government data. I recently heard a great story about how farmers are using NOAA data to minimize damage from droughts. These farmers and ranchers asked us to present more focused information on the seasonal drought forecast, and we transformed their request into the successful National Integrated Drought Assessment. 

By providing seasonal outlooks as far as a year in advance, we enable the agriculture industry to consider what water usage will look like, what crops will perform best that particular year, and even what week would be best to harvest a particular crop. This not only saves money – it promotes sustainability by decreasing water usage and, in some cases, minimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides. 

The truth is, data is the fuel that powers the 21st century economy. Data innovation has transformed the way we go about our daily lives – while at the same accelerating economic growth and creating amazing efficiencies. Whether it’s a farmer using NOAA data to maximize his crop yield or a start-up relying on the Census Bureau’s economic and demographic statistics to develop their business model – government data touches every American and informs business decisions every single day. 

Take our country’s federal statistical agencies—including the two I just mentioned, which are housed within the Commerce Department. Private sector firms are combining the data they produce with other government private sector data to create between $24 billion and $221 billion in annual revenues. 

That is why data is a key pillar of our Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.” For the first time, we have made it a department-wide strategic priority: to unleash more of our data to strengthen our economic growth; to make our data easier to access, understand, and use; and to maximize return on investment for businesses, entrepreneurs, government, taxpayers, and communities. 

As Secretary Pritzker likes to say, the Department of Commerce is “America’s Data Agency,” and no other department can rival the reach, depth, and breadth of our data programs. From the Census Bureau to NOAA and other bureaus like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, our data is a rich source of intelligence and information on the economy, on demographics, and on science. Indeed, our data collection on climate literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun. 

But we need to do more to make our data easy to find, understand, and access. The government can play an important role in fostering more data innovation, if we make the best use of our resources. 

Of the 20 terabytes of data that NOAA gathers each day – twice the amount of data of the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress – only a small percentage is easily accessible to the public. Secretary Pritzker and I want to make sure that we are getting the best taxpayer bang for the buck with our investment in government data. 

At the Department of Commerce, we know that it’s not enough to simply open up data sets. We must make our data as useful as possible to developers and technologists. 

To reach our goals, we are hiring our first ever Chief Data Officer – and our new deputy Chief Data Officer started last month. 

In January, we will hold the first meeting of our new Data Advisory Council – where top data experts and entrepreneurs will help us build out our data strategy to truly meet the needs of the private sector, policy makers, NGOs, and innovators. 

And just yesterday, the USPTO – in partnership with the GovLab at NYU – held an open roundtable aimed at guiding USPTO on how to open and improve their rich data assets right now. Under Michelle Lee’s leadership, USPTO has crafted an ambitious, clear, and concrete roadmap for releasing its patent and trademark data through APIs over the next year. 

Initiatives like this are so important – because we recognize there is tremendous value if we properly steward our rich and diverse data sets. We also know that the private sector will use government data in ways we never imagined if we only make it more accessible to them. 

Let me end with one last example – when NASA released a detailed topographical model of the Earth’s surface five years ago, I doubt those that worked on the project ever thought their work would one day help create levels for a snowboarding game. But thanks to their data, you can now snowboard down a realistic version of Mt. Everest. 

This example makes one thing clear – data is more than a set of numbers entered into a spreadsheet. Data can deliver better environmental outcomes. Data can generate increased economic growth and drive innovation. Data can even enable us to snowboard down Mt. Everest from the comfort of our own living rooms. 

I look forward to having a lively discussion about where the future of data is headed and the role government can play in getting our data out into the world. 

Thank you.