The Sunlight Foundation released a report on Oct. 23 that found that cities use Federal data to make strategic decisions including identifying local issues and informing policy decisions.

More than 75 percent of cities said that they use Federal data sets to pinpoint local issues and inform policy decisions, more than 50 percent said that they use the data to track city or department performance, about 40 percent said that they use the data to make budgeting decisions, and about 15 percent said that they use the data for regulatory enforcement. Without Federal data, many respondents said that policy decisions would suffer and “be made based on opinion or intuition.”

“The biggest concern for our department is people without health insurance,” said a public health officer in Nebraska quoted in the report. “Eleven percent of our county–25,000 people–are uninsured, and I only know that because of data from the Centers for Disease Control. We provide access to public clinics, and help people find services they need as best as we can. Federal data helps us understand how many people in our county need help. It also helps us understand who and where these people are. Census data tells us about poverty rates and racial breakdowns, and that helps inform where our highest need populations are and how to target resources.”

The majority of cities began using Federal data more than a decade ago and 43 percent plan to increase their use of Federal data in the future. No cities reported using less Federal data in the past five years. Only one respondent anticipated using less Federal data in the future because of the expectation that there would be less available Federal data.

A majority of respondents said that Federal data is published too infrequently. Cities were interested in more information on broadband and the digital divide; criminal justice and persons with criminal records; employment retention; and insurance information other than health.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said that Federal data is difficult or very difficult to find and access. More than 37 percent of respondents said that they expect Federal data to become easier to use over the next five years, and 44 percent anticipate little change.

“We’re collecting data and everyone here considers it the government’s job to publish that data,” said an innovation officer from New York. “Tax dollars are going to it and it’s not ours to keep. It’s for other people to use. It belongs to the people.”

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.