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3 positive side effects of data mining in Washington

Richard Jones Archive

When most people think about the big data movement and its effect on policy in Washington, their initial reactions are often negative. They think about public officials spying on their activity online, they fear for their privacy and they get defensive. However, there's much more to public sector data analysis than intrusion and fear. In fact, Washington is doing very little to invade your privacy - and meanwhile, the government is using data in other ways to improve our daily lives.

Many of these ways go under the radar. According to FCW, data analysis is revolutionizing the federal government in the United States today, and it has nothing to do with invading people's privacy. According to Bill Cull, vice president of the public sector at Splunk, government officials are using big data to collaborate and find ways to strengthen our democracy.

"As government continues to tap into big-data technologies, we'll see open-data platforms become customary as people, business leaders and policymakers come together to determine how this country should be governed," Cull stated. "Although the power, opportunities and capabilities lie within big data, it will be the people, policies and initiatives that will make a difference in how the data is used to make our government more secure, efficient and open."

Preventing fraud
One of the most important things the government can do with big data is use it to keep public programs free from criminal activity. Large-scale social programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, are prime targets for fraudsters looking to steal money from the federal government. By falsifying information and claiming money they're not entitled to, people can defraud Washington, and the damages could be catastrophic.

Luckily, data analysis can prevent incidents of this nature. FCW cited the Medicare Fraud Strike Force as one example - in May 2012, the agency was able to use analytics to uncover $452 million in false Medicare bills, cracking down on the biggest case of fraud in the program's history.

David Welker, an FBI special agent in charge of the investigation, told the news source that up to 10 percent of the government's $2.5 trillion annual healthcare spending may be vulnerable to fraud. It's vital that the government use analytics to combat this problem.

Responding to emergencies
Government agencies have a responsibility to look out for public safety by providing services from firefighters, paramedics and other employees who can help save lives. According to Govtech, Washington is hard at work deploying new technologies that gather data and use it to improve emergency response times.

Public officials are using data derived from sophisticated sensors and social media feeds to improve their modeling, the news source explained. They're using this information to implement visualization and GIS mapping strategies, helping them react to disasters more efficiently.

Making information available
The third way that big data has improved Washington is the movement to democratize information. A major point of emphasis during the Obama presidency has been an "open-data" culture, in which information is shared freely and made readily available to everyone.

Data about hospital prices is one chief example of this. If consumers can easily uncover information about the costs of medical care, they can make informed decisions about providing healthcare for employees at their companies, their families and themselves. This is just one example. Data about taxation, education and Social Security are all tremendously useful to consumers as well.

In all of these areas, it's important that Washington keep an eye on data quality. If the federal government truly strives to make information available to the public, it must make sure that information is accurate and free from biases or errors. That way, people can make more informed decisions about their futures.