The US Food and Drug Administration will soon become the latest agency to make its work more accessible to the public. The Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society points out that in January, the FDA added a page for "openFDA," a project to organize and release data sets. This summer, the agency is planning the beta launch of an API for several "high-value" sets of information. This includes a collection of data about product recalls, documentation on product labeling rules, and the Adverse Event Reporting System, which covers any report of an adverse reaction or error with medicine that's regulated by the FDA. This information can already be searched through to some extent, but the API will hopefully streamline the process significantly. A downloading option will also be available, and wider public access will come in fall.
Most of us won't be browsing these databases any time soon. But developers, researchers, and others can build on them to find connections or offer new services. The FDA says the project will also be a platform for "public challenges" and a place for experts inside and outside the agency to interact. So far, the Obama administration has made a point of making public data easier to find — not only does this increase the chances that someone will discover an interesting new use for it, it gives the administration something to show for American tax dollars. In 2012, the US Census Bureau released an API. Last year, Obama signed an executive order requiring all agencies to quickly put as much data as possible online in an accessible format. Although overall compliance has been mixed, the We the People petition site recently started beta-testing an API that will let people embed petitions on their sites and apps.