Commerce wants better usability for federal data

The Department of Commerce's recently launched data service aims to bring the nation’s top data scientists and software engineers together to build tools that...

The Department of Commerce wants to make better use of the troves of data the federal government produces on a daily basis.

Commerce’s recently launched data service aims to bring together the nation’s top data scientists and software engineers to build tools that leverage the government’s wealth of databases.

Ian Kalin
Ian Kalin

“It’s a kind of shared service, which is a combination between the startup culture of Silicon Valley and the mission of the Department of Commerce,” Ian Kalin, the chief data officer at Commerce, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “Primarily it’s a group of brilliant public servants that want to come together and build these technologies that can drive American business growth, protect the environment and support our numerous other missions.”

Kalin said small companies can struggle to take advantage of the department’s information resources because they don’t have the personnel to help them figure out how to begin exporting data.

“We actually have a lot of those services already stood up within the government, but it’s hard for a lot of people to find them,” he said.

The plan Kalin said, is to build a service that will help “overcome that lack of data standards.”

If the service flourishes, the department will look at sharing some of its aspects.

“Even at a core level, everything we’re doing has a default to open – open source engineering, engaging with partners in the private sector, non-profits and other governments,” Kalin said.

Chief Data Scientist Jeffrey Chen
Chief Data Scientist Jeffrey Chen

Leading the data service effort is the department’s first Chief Data Scientist Jeffrey Chen.

“As chief data scientist, Jeff will play a key role in advancing the projects that are a key focus of the Commerce Data Service,” said Commerce’s Deputy Chief Data Officer Tyrone Grandison in a statement. “From using weather data to model and predict severe weather incidents and impact, to utilizing trade data to boost America’s exports to modernizing patent data, there’s a lot of transformative work to be done.”

Chen has worked for NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the New York City Fire Department.

“The addition of Jeff to the team will help supercharge our data projects that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses interact with the department and its bureaus using the power of data science,” Grandison said. “He will incorporate experimental data science and product development to support the strategic goals of the Commerce Data Service and of America’s Data Agency.”

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