Why the State Department Sees Data as a Strategic Asset

IT modernization enables the agency to rethink its data management strategy and technology.

In a world where federal agencies still use IT systems from the 1970s (or even earlier), the rush to modernize legacy technology systems can seem to be boiled down to: out with the old, in with the new. But that’s only one part of the IT modernization story. Data is the other part.

At the State Department, the agency is using the push to modernize old technology as an opportunity to enhance its data management and recognize data as a vital element of its operations.

The strategy dovetails with the President’s Management Agenda, released in March, which has “data, accountability and transparency” as one of its key drivers of transformation. Under the PMA, the administration is developing the Federal Data Strategy to leverage data as a strategic asset to grow the economy, increase government effectiveness, facilitate oversight and promote transparency.

For the State Department, improving data management is an imperative, because information is the “currency” of the department, Ken Rogers, acting deputy CIO for business management and planning, said at an event in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, as FedScoop reports.

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State Department Moves to Modernize Data

The State Department wants to streamline its data management and improve efficiency, Rogers said earlier this month at a Foreign Affairs and ATARC event.

“As we’re launching more aggressively into the IT modernization, we’re looking at this as an opportunity to take a look at the data that we have in siloed applications, in centralized applications, in applications that are not that well integrated,” Rogers said, according to FedScoop.

As the agency shifts operations into the cloud, which helps improve transparency and public participation, it also wants to “normalize” its data. The end goal is to “make it so that [the Department’s data] can be effectively managed, leveraged and used for decision making.”

“We’ve kind of taken a page out of the President’s Management Agenda — data as a strategic asset,” Rogers said. “Often times in the tech field we can get excited about the bling of technology and the latest thing, but our most sustained and valuable asset in this space is our data.”

White House Envisions Federal Data Strategy

The PMA states that the forthcoming Federal Data Strategy will have four key components. One is a new enterprise data governance plan, in which the government will set priorities for managing data “as a strategic asset, including establishing data policies, specifying roles and responsibilities for data privacy, security, and confidentiality protection, and monitoring compliance with standards and policies throughout the information lifecycle.”

Building on the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the PMA says the government will develop policies and procedures and incentivize investments that enable stakeholders to effectively and efficiently access and use data assets.

This will be accomplished by improving the dissemination of data, “making it available more quickly and in more useful formats; maximizing the amount of nonsensitive data shared with the public; and leveraging new technologies and best practices to increase access to sensitive or restricted data while protecting the privacy, security, and confidentiality and interests of data providers.”

Further, the PMA calls for the government to improve the use of data assets for decision-making and accountability for both internal and external uses. This will include providing “high-quality and timely information to inform evidence-based decision-making and learning; facilitating external research on the effectiveness of government programs and policies which will inform future policymaking; and fostering public accountability and transparency by providing accurate and timely spending information, performance metrics and other administrative data.”

Finally, the PMA notes, agencies are called upon to “facilitate the use of government data assets by external stakeholders at the forefront of making government data accessible and useful through commercial ventures, innovation or for other public uses.”

This includes use by the private sector and scientific and research communities; by states, localities and tribes for public policy purposes; for education; and in enabling civic engagement.

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May 29 2018