Public agencies should never ask a citizen or business for data that is already available at some other government agency. This so-called Once-Only Principle (OOP) was one of the main topics at the Digital and Open Government conference in Amsterdam last week.
The Belgian federal government is currently working on the implementation of the two 2014 laws that require public agencies to reuse data on citizens and business that is already available elsewhere, and aim to simplify and standardise paper and electronic forms for data submission. The implementation of the 'Only Once Act' builds on unique identifiers for citizens (the National Registration Number) and legal entities (the Company Number). The basic objectives are to simplify administration, to increase efficiency, and to prevent fraud.
According to Cedric Vandamme, Public Sector Advisor at KPMG Management Consulting, several consolidated register services are already available through FedICT, the Belgian Federal Public Service for Information and Communication Technology, with more to come. An interesting example with regard to data ownership is provided by the new National Register of Natural Persons, which allows users to see who consulted their data.
According to Bart Drewes, head of the Expert Centre Information Policy at the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), the principle of once only has been a Dutch policy since 2001. The policy is implemented by defining Base Registers for important domains (e.g. persons, addresses, buildings, topography, land, income, and social security). For each of these, a separate law defines the mandatory data, and implements twelve over-all principles:
- arranged by law
- customers have the obligation to report inaccuracies
- obligatory use for the whole government
- clarity about liability
- financial conditions
- clarity about content and scope
- clear agreements and procedures between the register holder, suppliers and customers of the data
- clear procedures on access to the registers
- strict rules for quality control
- agreements on binding involvement of customers in decision making on the register
- clarity about the position of the register in the system and coherence with other registers
- an administration masters the base register, and a minister is reponsible for its realisation and functioning.
According to Jonathan Cave, Senior Fellow at the University of Warwick, the same issue applies on a European scale and between countries (cross-border). In addition to the objectives already mentioned above, he mentions reducing the financial and administrative burdens on citizens and businesses, enhancing service quality, and lowering cross-border barriers as important benefits.
Cave emphasises, however, that the need for OOP is not universally recognised: there are gaps in awareness, perceived importance and the likelyhood of real change, and there is little consensus on central themes to this issue
Currently, cross-border OOP is fragmented and low-priority, he concludes.