BLM Celebrates 2nd Anniversary of Closed Data

by Brian Timoney

To celebrate the International Open Data Hackathon Day, I’d like to point out that tomorrow marks the 2nd Anniversary of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management taking key portions of their GeoCommunicator website offline.  Behold the takedown notice.

So what's the BLM been doing for the last two years?


I’ve blogged about 18 months ago, admittedly with the naive belief that it would get sorted out eventually.   With key datasets pertaining to Oil & Gas leases, mining claims, etc., an ordinary citizen might assume that the problems would be addressed with a modicum of urgency.

The Public Loses Access, But Someone Still Got Paid

But decreased access to BLM data hasn’t been a loss for everyone.  Premier Geospatial, the private sector entity that has the closest relationship with the BLM in the realm of Oil & Gas lease data, sold itself (under its parent entity Xedar) to the international data vendor IHS for…$28  million. A nice payday for someone.

Closed government data is profitable for the chosen few


Which Side Do You Bet On?

While the democratic idealism of open government information is pleasant to ponder, as a business person investing in products and applications built on top of open data you have to make a hard-headed assessment.  Namely, is a government entity’s commitment to the free flow information credible over the long-term?  Or is it ever vulnerable to changing political winds: a new White House administration, a new City Council, a different set of county commissioners?

In the case of the BLM, the smart money turned out to be on bureaucratic dysfunction and intransigence.

Whether the Open Data movement is currently gaining or losing momentum is great fodder for Internet argument. But folks risking their own dollars might well be waiting for the day when the “movement” is backed by real statutory muscle.  Absent a legal compliance structure with teeth, there’s little to protect open data from the worst instincts of those in the public sector who forget too quickly who pays their salaries.

—Brian Timoney

* money photo courtesy of   401(K) 2013?s Flickr stream