Federal, state and local governments could learn a thing or two from major Internet companies, using data to improve public benefits such as health care and education, lawmakers said at a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources Chairman Geoff Davis, R-Ky., pointed to companies like Facebook and Google, which base their business on the data they have access to. "It's long past time for the government to use those same sort of tools," he said.
In March the White House announced a plan to pour millions of dollars into harnessing the huge amounts of data, from genetic databases to earthquake tracking, collected by government agencies.
The "Big Data Research and Development Initiative" will provide more than $200 million "to greatly improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data," the Office of Science and Technology Policy said at the time.
Many government programs are already on the path to effectively using the data collected by government agencies, George Sheldon, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, told the panel.
Still, many factors can stand in the way of effective information sharing, he said.
"Even in cases in which organizations are allowed to share information, uncertainties about legal requirements, cultural differences and misperceptions about privacy requirements too often stymie efforts to exchange information even when the benefits are obvious," Sheldon said.
And Robert Doar, commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration, agreed. He said many educational institutions are barred from sharing information with social services, and Social Security numbers, which can be the best way to identify an individual, are often restricted.