Using Publicly Available Information in American “Whole-of-Nation” Strategic Competition

By Marin Halper , Andrea McFeely

U.S. leaders today find themselves facing an increasingly diverse array of “whole-of-nation” challenges that cannot be addressed by any given government department or agency, or even the federal government itself, acting entirely on its own.

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U.S. policymakers face an increasingly diverse set of "whole-of-nation" (WON) challenges, which have broad, cross-cutting, or even systemic effects and cannot be solved by any single government department or agency, including the federal government. The Biden Administration, for instance, has called for a WON approach to address problems related to climate change, cybersecurity, supply chain security, and strategic competition. The U.S. must figure out how to provide equivalently WON responses.

Data analytics for WON policy implementation are more advanced than ever. Massive datasets from around the world, society, and the modern economy are now freely obtainable or commercially available on a fee-for-service or subscription basis. "Nontraditional" data, which previous generations could neither create nor obtain and combine at scale, can now be "digested" using powerful analytical and computational tools, potentially allowing important new insights.

The category of “publicly available information” (PAI) is crucial to success in this regard, both because under current rules it is the category of information most sharable across the U.S. government, and because there is so much of it available. U.S. policy is to promote the effective use of PAI in support of policymaking and implementation. Nevertheless, certain aspects of PAI management—specifically, those related to information concerning “U.S. persons”—are subject to a set of overlapping federal regulations that provide concurrent, but inconsistent, standards to govern the handling and use of such data.

How to establish and maintain a regulatory, legal, and policy framework that allows effective data usage and sharing in support of WON strategy, and that accomplishes this in ways consistent with American values is a governance challenge. This paper suggests a pilot program for using PAI-based analytics to help secure America’s critical supply chains against foreign adversary control or manipulation and offers suggestions for a new legislative framework or permissions and safeguards that could help harmonize rules in this arena. It also suggests a possible “Code of Ethical Conduct in the Use of Publicly Available Information” that could be promulgated as an articulation of best practices for the ethical employment of PAI.

It is essential we take better advantage of what sophisticated analysis of publicly available nontraditional data has to offer in helping meet our country’s most pressing WON challenges. Whatever the standard of privacy protection and institutional accountability that is adopted, it we should move toward a uniform standard for cross-jurisdictional data access, analysis, and dissemination in support of WON objectives. The White House, Congress, and other leaders should reform the federal data-management architecture in ways that facilitate WON competitive success, while protecting the values the American people cherish most.