ImageThe importance of data to the U.S. economy continues to grow. For example, in the United States the economic value from health care data is estimated at $300 billion annually, while $90 billion is generated from global positioning system (GPS) data, and $10 billion from weather data. And these examples just scratch the surface of the potential for data to transform a wide range of sectors including energy, education, finance, health care, manufacturing, and transportation.

Unfortunately, while President Obama has signed an historic executive order on open data and various government agencies have begun to promote data-driven innovation within their communities, such as the successful Health Datapalooza, there is still no federal government agency responsible for developing and implementing a national strategy to promote data-driven innovation across all sectors of the economy. To help fill this void, the Department of Commerce should establish an Office of Data Innovation.

The Office of Data Innovation would be responsible for facilitating data sharing between organizations and reducing barriers to global information flows. It would evaluate the impact of data-related regulations on competition and innovation in different industries, work with other nations to improve international frameworks for sharing data across borders, and help develop open, global standards for data. It would also streamline data sharing in the private sector by developing model data sharing contracts and supporting open data efforts at the state and local level.

In addition, the Office of Data Innovation would facilitate development of next-generation online educational resources for data scientists, such as creating a complete curriculum of open online courses in a broad array of areas such as data analytics, statistics, programming, machine learning, natural language processing, and data visualization. Such an effort could help open new opportunities for workers and expand the availability of interdisciplinary, data-literate workers for U.S. companies.

Finally, the Office of Data Innovation would be responsible for reducing technological barriers to data-driven innovation. It would set priorities for technological research on relevant topics such as data analytics and data storage, as well as privacy and security technologies. By partnering with different stakeholders in academia and the private sector, it could develop a research and development (R&D) roadmap for each of these areas to ensure that federal research dollars are directed at the most pressing challenges in the public and private sectors. For example, with regards to privacy, it could recommend that the National Science Foundation prioritize research funding in areas such as data de-identification, privacy-preserving data mining, secure, multi-party authentication, and interoperable digital credentials.

The mission of the Department of Commerce is to promote job growth, economic development, and an improved standard of living for all Americans, and it does this by facilitating access to global markets, promoting research and development of innovative technologies, and managing and monitoring national resources and assets. To be effective, it must continuously adapt to changing conditions. As many have argued, data is the new oil, and so the Department of Commerce should search for more opportunities to unlock the potential of this increasingly valuable national resource.