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The federal government spends about $4 trillion every year on everything from ships to bridges to healthcare. Along the way, it also accumulates a lot of data. Have you thought about how useful it could be in learning important concepts to help us succeed or discovering new opportunities for business growth?

Government Data – Where to Start

Let’s get warmed up by looking at some big-picture sites and then drill down into more specialized data sources. Our travels begin at data.gov, which is maintained by the General Services Administration. Consider this a map where you can search more than 330 thousand data sets. It helps to have good search skills, but take a spin around the site and you’ll be amazed at what you will find.

The federal government operates more than 6,000 websites, most of which are accessible to the public. If you’re curious about which sites are the most popular and how many people are currently connected, look at analytics.usa.gov. Can you guess which site is the most popular? You’ll find that information here.

Looking for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data? You could stay on the analytics.usa.gov site and use the drop-down list to find popular pages on the HHS websites. You could also head over to healthdata.gov to access a searchable database of health data, most of which come from HHS agencies.

Drill Down for More Healthcare Data

HHS operates departmental websites, and all its affiliated agencies have their own sites. If you’re looking for data within a particular agency, you may have to dig a bit beyond the agency homepage. If you’re trying to get epidemiological data, your best bet is to try the CDC data page, but if you want data concerning Medicare or Medicaid, try the CMS data page. How about senior nutrition programs? Go to the USDA Data Catalog and search for it.

Still looking? Head over to the HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) and check out the Directory of Health and Human Services Data Resources. The page is set up as a list, with agencies and the most popular data listed below each one. You can find significant documents from CMS, the CDC, and the National Institutes of Health along with several other lesser-known agencies within HHS. This is a great site to include in your initial research. It lists data that are likely to be in demand and less obscure than others. If you can’t find it here, head over to one of the many other agencies that can help.

Beyond Healthcare Data

In addition to the massive amount of healthcare data gathered by the federal government, you can also find great troves of demographic information from your friends in the Census Bureau. The agency famous for gathering the 10-year census also gathers data continuously on all types of demographic information, including how many Americans have health insurance and the average age of residents of the nation’s towns and cities. Looking for the prevalence of chronic disease in older Americans? Chances are you will find accessible data right here.

Building Skill in Data Analysis

Most of the resources in the sites we have uncovered are easy to access and interpret; however, some data sets are massive and require a basic understanding of data science to uncover useful insights.

Fortunately, there’s help available for that as well. Go to the National Library of Medicine for a tutorial on finding and using health statistics. If your ambitions lead you to acquire higher-level skills, you can find online courses on data science at CourseraUdemy, and LinkedIn. If you have a premium subscription to LinkedIn, you probably already have access to the help you need to grow.

Government data is authoritative and, for the most part, free. Your taxes pay for all this information, and you can be confident that the data produced by government agencies is as accurate as you’ll find anywhere. Data rules! Get to work and find some now.

X Factors in Finding and Using Government Data

  • Determine what data you need. The more precise description, the more likely you are to find it.
  • If you don’t know which agency has the data you want, start with high-level sites such as data.gov or the Directory of Health and Human Services Data Resources.
  • Get the skills you need to analyze the data you want to access. A little effort in learning will take you a long way.

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Written by: Paul Baldwin, Baldwin Health Policy Group
Paul’s pharmaceutical industry experience in public and government affairs led to becoming Executive Director of the Long Term Care Pharmacy Alliance, helping lead the industry through the Medicare Modernization Act and creation of the prescription drug benefit. Paul was VP of Public Affairs for Omnicare before founding Baldwin Health Policy Group.

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