The government lacks transparency and can’t go dumping large quantities of data in poorly presented states, says the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its report on the government’s transparency agenda.
The PAC chair, Margaret Hodge, has said the government must do something to ensure data released is accessible, relevant and easy for us all to understand.
The PAC committee recognizes that as more providers are involved in public services, including school performance and social services, there must be a level to improve the quality and value of public services in terms of data transparency.
“At the moment too much data is poorly presented and difficult to interpret. In some sectors, such as adult social care, there are big gaps in the information provided so users cannot use it to make informed choices,” Hodge said.
The report says the amount of information released to public bodies in both local and central government have significantly increased, but much of the data is very difficult to interpret.
Four out of five people who visit the data.gov.uk website says that there is no transparency to make informed choices, and there are big gaps in information about adult social care and other parts of the public sector.
The report further criticized the actual costs to release data in producing standard data releases. For example, spend data and organograms (departmental personnel charts) range from about £50,000 to £500,000 per year (about $78k – $780k), and expenditure data can range from virtually zero to £100,000 per year (about $156k) to local authorities for releasing data.
“One area of particular concern to this committee is that private providers can hide behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ to block the disclosure of relevant information. We must be able to follow the taxpayers’ pound wherever it is spent,” said Hodge. “Data is also being issued by government and other public bodies without any clear idea of the costs, benefits and risks of doing so. The government should develop a comprehensive analysis of what it actually costs to release data, and of the real benefits and risks.”
Some data are very difficult to interpret, such as local government spending, and there are important gaps in information, such as incomplete price and performance information on adult social care. It also undermines the ability of service deliverers and policy makers to focus on improving quality, the report adds.
Feds Lack Privacy Protection
A new GAO report released Tuesday finds that Federal agencies are falling short in protecting personal data collected and used throughout the government and are not adhering fully to key privacy principles.
Greg Wilshusen, director of information security issues with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recommended that the government should consider updating federal laws in improving how agencies collect and use personal information, and consider the appropriate balance between citizens’ privacy and the government’s need to collect that information.
The report also suggested that Privacy Act of 1974 established for protections of personal information can be revised to cover all personally identifiable information collected, used, and maintained systematically by the federal government.
Importance of Data Transparency
A common standardized government-wide electronic identifiers for such concepts as agency, program, recipient and award, then spending data collected by different agencies and stored in one place for searchable and digestible action can save about $1.8 billion in tax revenue for US government.
“It means federal managers will be able to make better decisions, Congress will be able to make better appropriations decisions, and taxpayers will be able to see where their money is going,” said Hudson Hollister, the founder of the Data Transparency Coalition (DTC).
The Obama administration back in 2011 announced massive investments to bring transparency of data by sharing information collected by the different agencies. A similar initiative is being taken by the UK government to unlock and seize the benefits of data sharing by public agencies spanning health, transport, crime and many other areas.