Data tells a safety story
For the past few years, it is has been my privilege to see firsthand a dramatic change in government culture: the public availability and application of data. This rapid increase of Open Data is not valuable in and of itself; its value lies in the ability of data to tell a story, guide how we direct our resources during a disaster, and help consumers make more informed decisions.
At DOT, we've been leaders of Data.Gov's Safety community. And yesterday, at the second annual Safety Datapalooza, innovators from government and the private sector shared some of the achievements in public safety made possible by this revolution in Open Data.
In the transportation sphere, leaders of two startups using safety data --Keychain Logisitcs and Bustr--shared how they've taken the data DOT makes publicly available and created useful apps for consumers as well as business owners.
Keychain is a matchmaker between freight shippers and commercial carriers. When shippers have cargo that needs to be delivered, they can consult Keychain to locate available carriers and check carrier and driver safety records. The safety data comes from our Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
It's easy to see the value of Keychain's service as a way of keeping the freight that fuels our economy moving efficiently. But thanks to the safety data incorporated into Keychain, shippers--many of them small businesses--have added confidence that their goods will get where they need to safely. Keychain also helps the safer and more reliable trucking companies and commercial drivers--many of whom are also small businesses--stand out.
Bustr also uses FMCSA safety data--for buses and drivers--to help those looking to charter a motorcoach for group travel. FMCSA makes available carrier and driver records, but by law is prohibited from putting an evaluative grade on a driver or carrier's record. Bustr is free to do exactly that, which makes DOT data more useful to trip planners. And again, it also helps the small businesses who own and operate motorcoaches to stand out based on their relative safety merits.
I'm very proud of DOT's leadership in the Data.Gov community and the value our safety data provides. But in addition to transportation apps, I was also impressed at yesterday's Safety Datapalooza by the many apps and tools that help guide first responders and survivors in the wake of disasters; that help consumers shop for products and services where business owners have a strong record of workplace safety; and that help keep our nation's law enforcement officers safe while they are keeping the rest of us safe.
The story is not just that the free buffet of data is being put to terrific and convenient use; it's that government is actively encouraging that use by making the data accessible in the first place and working with private sector developers to transform that data into actionable, practical information in the palm of our hands.
So, no one should be at all surprised if you hear someone say, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to innovate."
Greg Winfree is Administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration.