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Issa on Open Government Data: ‘Imagine How Much Savings We Could Have’

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called the Freedom of Information Act a “great success” but said it was intended to do even more.

“Every day countless individuals, companies, news organizations and law firms try to receive information under FOIA. The first thing that happens is it goes to a human being who begins a search process, who then begins looking through the data in order to redact information that’s not going to be given – literally a human nightmare to try to do,” he said at an event held by the Transparency Data Coalition.

“Under the DATA Act, we envision that metadata will be so easily searched, that when you are looking for it, you won’t even have to ask for a FOIA because the vast majority of information that today is being asked for in FOIA will already be available online with appropriate personally identifiable information. FOIA will be limited to, ‘I looked at the data, the data indicates something more, and I believe I have a right to some portion of what is redacted,’” he said.

President Obama signed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 last May.

Issa, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and Internet, explained that the changes under the law would reduce the large amount of FOIA requests.

“Imagine if all the spending in government to all the vendors was made open and available for non-classified work,” Issa said. “Imagine how quickly we could find out that the government, through no fault of its own, paid 10 different prices for the same product, and in fact, may buy once from the company who manufactures it, once from the distributor and several times from retailers, and not even be aware that the way they went out with contracts they did that. Imagine how much savings we could have.”

Issa encouraged the public to demand that federal agencies allow government data to be more accessible.

“The only way to get the executive branch to stay on it is for it to be important in a political sense. The only way to Congress to stay on it is for it to be meaningful with organizations like this that are dedicated to it,” he said.

Issa said not having open federal government data costs taxpayers billions of dollars. He said President Obama should follow through on his promise to have the most transparent administration in history.

“We don’t need dreams, we don’t need promises, we need, ‘what will you deliver before January 20, 2017?’”

If there was open government data, Issa said constituents could get information faster either directly or through a caseworker.

“I would love nothing more than for my constituents who are waiting for VA service to know what the wait times are at every hospital and know what the ratios are between the number of doctors,” he said.