Interactive mapping and open data illustrate excess federal property

WhiteHouse.gov puts data to use in its new federal property map.

Last week, I reported how open source tools make mapping easier. Yesterday, the White House showed how open data can be visualized in a massive new interactive feature posted at WhiteHouse.gov. The map was published as the White House proposed legislation to create an independent commission to identify civilian properties that can be sold, closed or destroyed.

The interactive map of excess federal property is beautiful, fast, and it shows the location of approximately half of the 14,000 buildings and structures that are currently designated as excess by the White House. Many structures from the Department of Defense are not mapped, given national security concerns.

As the biggest property owner in the United States, the federal government has an immense amount of data about its holdings. By mapping out the locations, the White House has taken the step of not only putting open data to good use, but also educating online visitors about just how much property is out there.

For those that wish to download the dataset themselves, the White House has made it available as a zipped .csv file. The White House also released an infographic that provides a static look at the data.

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Click to enlarge

As USA Today reported, however, that while identifying surplus buildings is a step toward greater transparency, knowing what can be sold won’t be so easy:

A USA TODAY analysis shows that just 82 of the 12,218 surplus properties have been identified as candidates to sell. That’s partly because the federal data are from 2009, and many might have already been sold, said Danny Werfel, the OMB’s controller.

In other words, actually divesting government of the excess property will be harder than mapping it. Financial, legal and political roadblocks will persist. That said, with bipartisan support there might be billions of dollars in maintenance out there that could be saved. And with the release of open government data in structured form, civic developers can work with it. On balance, that’s a public good.

The rapid evolution of tools for mapping open data is an important trend for the intersection of data, new media, citizens and society. Whether it’s mapping issues, mapping broadband access or mapping crisis data, geospatial technology is giving citizens and policy makers new insight into the world we inhabit.

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