Commerce secretary unveils plan to unleash data

Data is at the top of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s list of priorities.

At a Thursday morning event, Pritzker spoke less about trade agreements and budget technicalities and more about innovation, unveiling the “Open for Business” framework. The initiative commits exclusively to three different areas to boost the economy and create more business opportunities: trade, innovation and data.

Pritzker knows first-hand the opportunity open data offers; her first business venture, which focused on building senior-living communities, succeeded because it was able to pull public information from the Census Bureau. She used that data to find out where seniors were living and their incomes to plan and grow her business.

“It’s already clear that government data is fertile ground for business creation and market growth,” Pritzker said, speaking at startup incubator 1776.


One way Commerce has begun to unleash data is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations data sets. Each day, NOAA produces two terabytes of oceanic and weather data to the public, and Commerce is now working to release the 17 terabytes of data not made available daily.

The idea is that unlocked public information about the ocean, climate and weather will help entrepreneurs launch businesses.

But freeing up data shouldn’t stop just there, Pritzker said.

“We will work throughout our department, across government and with industry to make even more data standardized and easy to use,” she added.

One issues with open data is that it doesn’t get a lot of attention until the information is no longer available. During the last government shutdown, Commerce’s employment reports were delayed and attention was drawn to the number of those using Commerce data every day, Pritzker said.


Pritzker has taken a grassroots approach since assuming office in June. She visited 13 cities in 12 states to connect with people on the ground, meeting with more than 400 business leaders, CEOs and Commerce employees.

What she found was the hunger business leaders had for data.

“Business leaders should have access to data so that they can make the most informed decisions,” Pritzker said. “It’s essential in creating a strong digital economy with cutting-edge technology.”

Commerce is working to ensure businesses have a strong voice at the table when it comes to strengthening the digital economy, she said. Security of online information is also a major priority for the department.

“We will make sure there is a robust cybersecurity system in place to protect infrastructure for consumers, and we will champion for a free and open Internet throughout the world,” Pritzker said.

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