Uncle Sam Collects Mountains of Data and Wants You to Make a Fortune With It
Business + Economy

Uncle Sam Collects Mountains of Data and Wants You to Make a Fortune With It

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files

“Big data” probably doesn’t get much bigger than the many terabytes worth of material the federal government collects and stores, including a wealth of information on the nation’s economy, population and environment.

Now the National Technical Information Service, part of the Commerce Department, wants to find new uses for that ocean of data, which comes in a stunning and at times bewildering variety of formats across multiple government websites and platforms. “Few people know the extent of Commerce's or other Federal Government data sets, and even fewer know how to build innovative, useful tools from them,” the agency admits.

Related: Oops! The Feds Screwed Up 10 Years of Housing Data

To address that, it has put out a request for proposals for joint ventures with companies, nonprofits and research organizations that would find new uses for federal data in business or improve public and private sector access to that data. It hopes to find ideas that will “drive innovation and business outcome” and says that the projects “may provide a revenue-sharing opportunity” — ways for the government, and its partners, to make money from the data being collected.

The opportunity for joint ventures is broadly defined. The proposals just have to provide “innovations” in the use of data and data services, or data sharing, or data analytics and forecasting. The NTIS request says the proposed joint venture may include, for example, “facilitating the creation, based on Federal data or the use of Federal data in some combination with non-Federal data, of suites of products, platforms, and services that meet the needs of businesses, innovators, government agencies, and others.” That leaves a lot of room for interpretation and creativity.

How Big Cities Mine Big Data to Solve Big Problems

Overall, the profit potential may be considerable. A 2014 report from the Commerce Department estimated that federal data could “guide” as much as $3.3 trillion worth of investments a year. It noted, for example, that Census data alone guides $400 billion in annual federal spending.

So get your application in. Proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. EST on August 1.