What Data.gov's closure means for government APIs


Data.gov, the General Services Administration-run website that serves as a repository for federal open data, is down due to the government shutdown. As a result, many of the application programming interfaces once found on the site are no longer available.

But most of the APIs aren't being updated and maintained anyway. That's because many agencies' offices that handle new media and open government programs are closed, as they are not consided essential government activities. 

The Obama administration has been a huge proponent of using APIs to provide real-time feeds for everything from content updated on the backend and funneled into government-run mobile apps and websites to raw statistical data that fuels private-sector apps.

Some government APIs deemed essential remain intact despite the shutdown. For example data calls are functioning normally from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Digital Forecast Database--an XML-format service providing weather data--to commercial weather websites and services.

The vast majority of government APIs, however, have gone dark.

A Sunlight Foundation blog post by Sunlight Developer Eric Mill points out the disastrous effect of a shutdown on the government APIs on which so many systems rely.

"It's safe to say that in the community of people who depend on government data, things feel different now," writes Mill.

"Now that it's been made clear that this data can suddenly disappear with the political crisis of the moment, the open government community will be taking very seriously their role in preserving it," he adds.

"The only reliable way to preserve data online is to make copies--and the more copies, the better!" writes Mill.

Once the government returns to normal operations, Sunlight recommends agencies:

  • Povide bulk data for download before of concurrently with building an API; 
  • Encourage data re-publishing; 
  • (Going forward) inform the public of what APIs will and will not be maintained during a shutdown; and 
  • Provide links to alternate sources of the data.

For more:
- read the Sunlight Foundation blog post

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