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Data Sharing Agreements

Data sharing agreements are formal contracts that detail what data are being shared and the appropriate use for the data.


Data Sharing Agreements need to include provisions concerning access and dissemination. It is not wise to enter into a data sharing agreement where privacy information may be disclosed since non-Federal organizations are not subject to the Privacy Act. Similarly, the non-Federal organization needs to be alerted that the Federal agencies may be compelled to release information under the FOIA.


When to use Data Sharing Agreements? 

  • Proprietary data are being shared across organizations
  • There is a need to document which organization will be responsible for releasing data and what role the other organization(s) should take in assisting with that release.
  • There is a need to document the acceptable use of preliminary or provisional data by a partner or collaborator
  • One or more of the organizations require a data sharing agreement.


When NOT to use Data Sharing Agreements 

The USGS may not share or exchange records or data that are:


Contents of Data Sharing Agreements 

"One of the challenges of the geospatial community is to foster data sharing and collaboration among multiple agencies and organizations, across multiple levels of public, private, and not-for-profit entities. Successful interagency data sharing and collaboration is based on adopting guiding principles, identifying best practices, and recognizing the challenges, which may include policy issues, scientific issues, and technological issues." (National Geospatial Advisory Committee, 2011)

Authority: The authority under which the Data Sharing is conducted must be defined.

Access Provisions: Whether the data are online or not, the agreement must define who has what rights to access the data, who has what rights to change or modify the data, and what the methods of data access will be.

Note that the details of these Agreements may need to reconcile management differences and business practices differences. For instance, how does an agency protect its data and what access will it be able to allow through firewalls and security controls? How are the agencies going to notify each other when permissions are changed? Which manager is going to be responsible for given data?

Confidentiality and Disclaimers: There must be a disclaimer covering the accuracy of the data, as well as a description of the data along with appropriate metadata. Additionally, a statement concerning the release of information to a third party is required. This is needed because a non-Federal agency may not be able to protect USGS information from disclosure, and conversely because USGS may be compelled to release information under a FOIA request if no exemption applies.

Time Limit & Modification: If relevant, a time limit should be specified for the Agreement, as well as a method for modifying the Agreement. Such a time limit ensures that the Agreement is revisited periodically.


USGS Current Approaches to Documenting Data Sharing Agreements 

When funds will be transferred:

  • Collaborative Agreements* 
  • Inter-Agency Agreements* 

When no funds will be transferred:

  • Memorandum of Understanding*
  • Data Use License Agreement*
  • External Agency's Data Sharing Agreement - should first be reviewed by the USGS Office of Policy and Analysis

*Handled by the USGS Office of Policy and Analysis

When the partner is a foreign entity who will not accept abiding by United States law, agreements will need to go through the USGS Office of International Programs.


Example Agreements


What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires: 

The USGS Survey Manual Chapter 500.26 – Domestic Memorandum of Understanding states that, ‘if applicable, include language [in MOUs] such as:  All data and information produced as a result of this MOU shall be available for use by the USGS in connection with its ongoing programs.  This includes publication of results where appropriate, except in cases prohibited by proprietary and security considerations.’

The USGS Survey Manual Chapter 500.20, 6.D states that 'USGS adheres to 15 U.S.C. 3710a (Federal Technology Transfer Act) by protecting trade secrets, commercial or financial information, and privacy concerns. Information may include names of other Parties, funding amounts, the description of work, and the term of the Agreement. USGS Partners may want this information protected, since it may pose a negative impact to their operations. Therefore, the USGS cannot released this information to the public without the other Party’s written permission.'