Build Once, Use Often

May marked a White House deadline for government agencies to begin streaming data directly to outside developers and the public through application programming interfaces, or APIs. Basically, these are instructions for one computer to continuously grab information from another. 

Some agencies launched a dozen or more APIs in response to the mandate, which is part of President Obama’s open government initiative. 

At the Labor Department, lead information technology specialist Mike
Pulsifer took a different tack. Labor published just one API for 175 information stockpiles, ranging from workforce statistics to historical trends for the Consumer Price Index.

Pulsifer has been assembling the API since 2011. The plan, he says, is to build for the long term. This strategy allows the agency to pack new data sets into the existing API rather than developing a separate infrastructure for each one. 

Pulsifer came up with the idea from the photo sharing site Flickr, which has consolidated all of its data into a single stream. No one else at Labor was using APIs, so building once and using often seemed like a good approach.

“We started really small with three data sets that were admittedly of limited usefulness,” he says. The plan worked, and other divisions began agreeing to let Pulsifer’s API grab their data. 

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of data that we’d love for app developers out there to turn into information,” Pulsifer says. “The stories that can be told from this data, that’s what we’re really hoping the public can produce out of this.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.