Federal Data Sets Offline Due to Shutdown

Loraine Lawson
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Big Data: Eight Facts and Eight Fictions

“It’s a data-mergency,” quipped user Waldoj in response to a GitHub post by White House e-gov team member Haley Van Dyck announcing that pull requests and other issues for the GitHub Project Open Data would not be processed until the federal shutdown ends.

GitHub participants responded with questions about whether open source projects should rely so much on government contribution and, conversely, whether the government’s contribution was even substantial. A few members implied Van Dyck’s announcement was a political ploy.

Whatever the motivation, the effect was undeniable: Digital data provided and supported by federal government workers went offline today.

Data.gov and Healthdata.gov posted unavailable notices. Gigaom reported that Copyright.gov was shut down, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office remained online.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which publishes economic growth data, shut down its website overnight. Statisticians were furloughed, which means no September monthly employment report this Friday.

“The dearth of data will make it harder for policymakers and investors to gauge the health of the U.S. economy and the supply of commodities into global markets,” Reuters reported. “The monthly jobs report, which provides the nation's unemployment rate and a gauge of hiring by employers, regularly sets the tone for financial markets worldwide.”

The Bureau of Labor will not even collect data until the furlough ends, according to the agency.

Other agencies, including the Department of Energy, have reserve funds that will allow them to continue operating for the time being.

Businesses that rely on government-issued data were turning to privately produced data sets, in some cases.

For instance, payroll processor ADP issues a report on job growth, which Deutsche Bank chief US economist Joe LaVorgna plans to use, according to Business Insider.

However, Reuters warned that ADP’s report has a “spotty record” when compared to the government’s report, which includes more comprehensive data.

Marketwatch published a list of the delayed government reports, as well as any possible alternatives.

Many government sites and data projects also went dark during the 2011 budget crisis. Funding ran out for Data.gov, IT Dashboard, USA Spending and other transparency sites.

The projects were eventually refunded, but it does give one pause: How can businesses and other organizations leverage open data sets when support for these projects is so fickle?

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 2, 2013 10:29 AM Akiva Akiva  says:
Surely everyone in IT realizes that there is absolutely no technical or funding reason to shut down access to existing data. That's pure vindictiveness on the part of the administration, intentionally causing as much impact and DAMAGE as possible to create sufficient political leverage to get their way. It's similar to placing (and then patrolling) barricades around the open access monuments in Washington DC - "shutting down" an outdoor open access "park". While we certainly understand a funding shutdown stopping publishing of FUTURE reports, and in theory if they don't pay hosting bills (if they rent hosting space rather than run their own) websites being shuttered in 30 to 90 days - blackening existing websites is just pure intentional damage. On the other hand, if they shut down services and nobody notices... can we leave those departments / sites / reports shut down and save the budget going forward? Reply
Oct 7, 2013 4:56 AM Loraine Loraine  says:
I can agree about the websites, although it is possible the sites that are more e-commerce than information have to do a lot of user error trouble shooting and so are shutting it down to avoid people's submissions getting lost or creating too large a backlog. I don't know. Open Datasets, however, are pulled so it's possible the data is updated regularly and they don't want people using stale data, especially if they don't realize it's stale data. I also wonder if there are liability issues, but I'm just guessing here. Reply

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