Oct 29 2020

ReImagine Nation ELC 2020: Federal Data Strategy Gives CDOs a Path to Cooperation

Improved communication and easier connections spur the development of new data-related cross-agency projects.

The Federal Data Strategy introduced in late 2019 gave government data experts a stronger framework for forming cross-agency strategies, sharing best practices and focusing better on missions based on solid information, a panel of chief data officers said Thursday.

“There has been an ad hoc federal data community for nearly a decade. But we hadn’t had the kind of regularity and formality of those conversations that were important in getting traction for the whole federal enterprise,” said Jim Rolfes, CIO and CDO for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, at the virtual ReImagine Nation ELC 2020 conference.

The FDS required agencies to install chief data officers, and today there are about 80 in position across government, said Ted Kaouk, CDO for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and chairman of the federal Chief Data Officers Council.

“We’ve got a lot of engagement with CDOs, we’re really getting into our stride,” Rolfes said. “We’re positioning the whole federal government to expand, understand and use data so that it will have a bigger impact.”

CDOs Band Together To Work on Data Sets

The Federal Data Strategy, released last December, evolved from the President’s Management Agenda, which in 2018 called for the development of a data strategy. The FDS provides guidance on how agencies should use and manage their data, and requires that agencies meet regular benchmarks to ensure long-term outcomes are achieved.

Agencies have been excited about finding new ways to use the vast amounts of data they already collect. For instance, data.gov contains 215,370 public data sets available for anyone to use. Resources.data.gov, launched in July 2019, provides access to the tools needed to implement the FDS. 

CDOs are eager to increase the amount of cross-agency work that they do, noting the connections among the ReImagine Nation panelists alone. Kirsten Dalboe, CDO of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Daniel Morgan, Transportation Department CDO, both work at agencies that regulate pipelines. DOT recalls defective cars; CPSC recalls bad car seats.

“Together, we keep families safe on the roads,” Morgan said. “CDOs want to work together. We all want to make our agencies work better.”

Mission-Related Data Finds Huge Demand

The combination of a federal strategy and the growing number of CDOs is giving data experts “a greater sense of what we can do,” said Jamal El-Hindi, interim CDO at the Treasury Department. “When you create a community, the speed at which people can learn from one another is so much greater.”

So far, the most demand for data has come from agencies concerned about mission-related issues rather than administrative support (such as human relations). 

“The pandemic lit a fire under people about important operational decisions and important data management,” said Kshemendra Paul, CDO at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “There’s a lot of demand for dashboarding and looking for reliable leading indicators.”

COVID-19 also put the focus on repurposing data for new insights; for example, disaster relief data that outlines the impact of catastrophe on vulnerable communities can also be used to analyze the impact of ongoing events such as the pandemic, said El-Hindi.

The real impact of the data strategy will take time to see, however; it’s a 10-year plan, Kaouk said. Its immediate value comes in the way it encourages agencies to strengthen their connections.

“There are a lot of people in organizations working on projects with respect to data,” El-Hindi said. “These groups have been looking for greater alignment, and the CDO offices give them a place to go.”

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