This would allow the public to reuse the data, mash it up with other sources and repackage it online in innovative ways - potentially uncovering relationships and new uses that were never conceived of by the government.
Reported in Threat Level in the article, An API for Federal Legislation? Congress Wants Your Opinion, the first step calls for a feasibility study to assess the cost of making data publicly available in bulk.
The step is being enshrined in the new Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which is already in the process of being passed.
In the words of the sponsor for the feasibility study,
“In our web 2.0 world, we can empower the public by providing them with raw data that they can remix and reuse in new and innovative ways," says Honda, who is vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. "With these tools, the public can collaborate on projects that can help legislators to create better policies to address the pressing challenges facing our nation.”
The Australian government has a great deal of data which could similarly be freed up to work for the common good of the nation, but access to it varies by department and there are no common standards for how it should be made public.
Perhaps we also need a centralised legislative approach to move towards greater and more consistent access.