US Government Shutdown Affects OpenData APIs

The impacts of the US Congress’ impasse on passing legislation to fund government activities has stretched to the White House’s APIs and to APIs provided by US Federal Government agencies. US Government managed APIs are currently offline. It is a blow to the Federal Government's emerging open data infrastructure.

A panel scheduled for Data Week in San Francisco on October 3 was to include James Sanders and Vidya Spandana from the White House and Sean Herron from the US Government were due to present as part of a panel entitled “Join forces with the White House: Open Data and Government as a Platform”. Joining forces just wasn’t possible, as the Federal Government shutdown meant the speakers couldn’t participate.

While a cancelled panel is one thing, the shutdown of government services may also impact on businesses that are relying on streaming Government agency data via APIs. White House API sites aimed at citizen participation – such as the We The People API that provides access to Federal petitions – currently displays a notice stating that the service is temporarily disabled.

Similar messages are displayed on the developer page for the US Census Data API.

Some APIs that have a business imperative may still be functioning. For example, in a recent discussion with John Dietz about the forthcoming Concur Perfect Trip DevCon, he raised the idea of designing a simple app built on the US TSA API data which could help business travellers estimate what time they should leave for the airport based on how long they would have to wait at Homeland Security checkpoints. It appears that if a commercial solution based on this API was available, the app creators would now be having difficulties with their paid customers. It appears some data is still accessible via the MyTSA API, although the website warns that the site (and potentially the datasets powering the API) “will not be actively managed”.

The shutdown causing APIs to be offline demonstrates yet again the risks for startups and enterprises seeking to use government open data APIs, or any third party API, as part of their business models.

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