Oct 13 2021

Federal CDOs Seek More Guidance on Government’s Data Strategy

A recent survey of federal chief data officers indicates that they need more clarity from the Office of Management and Budget.

Federal chief data officers report that they have completed or are making progress on most of the action items in the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan, the government’s program to encourage agencies to leverage data as a strategic asset.

However, according to a recent survey of agency CDOs, the data chiefs need more guidance from their agencies and from the Office of Management and Budget on responsibilities and priorities. Specifically, according to a survey published in late September by the Data Foundation and Grant Thornton, CDOs are seeking clarity on responsibilities and expectations related to the data strategy.

The strategy itself has not been updated with a 2021 action plan, and the survey indicates that agency CDOs need clearer guidance from OMB, “even though the timelines had passed for key deliverables.”

One of the survey’s four key recommendations is that OMB offer such guidance “to better articulate the data governance function in government, CDO responsibilities for open data and tiered access, and how agencies should recognize the role of the CDO among senior leaders.” The survey included findings based on responses from 39 federal CDOs.

CDOs Want Greater Support, Clarity on Data Plan

As the survey notes, the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan contained 20 actions to be addressed within a year, including six to be completed by each agency.

At least three-quarters of the survey respondents reported that “some agency-level action items were in progress or fully implemented,” according to the report.

The most commonly implemented item was creating a diverse data governance body, with 75 percent of respondents reporting that had been completed. Roughly 25 to 35 percent of the survey respondents reported that the other action steps had been completed. According to the survey, none of the responding CDOs reported completing all six action items, but 75 percent reported having at least five of the items “in progress” or “completed.”

Constituting a data governance board was also reported as the least challenging agency action, with 42 percent of respondents stating that doing so was “not at all challenging” or “a little challenging.” Meanwhile, publishing and then updating data inventories was seen as the most challenging item (42 percent reported it was “challenging” or “very challenging”), followed by identifying priority data assets for agency open data plans.

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Despite the progress, CDOs requested improved guidance, both from within their agencies and from federal leadership, such as OMB.

“Within their own agencies, CDOs were looking for agency leadership to weigh in on and support data strategy initiatives, such as data standards, privacy protection, and data policy development,” according to the survey.

CDOs are also seeking more support in terms of OMB’s next annual action plan for the Federal Data Strategy to “help provide a clearer path for their maturity.” CDOs also requested clarity on the reporting requirements from OMB on the Federal Data Strategy.

The report also notes that most CDOs “do not have adequate resources to fulfill their statutory responsibilities and support agency missions.”

“CDOs need sustained, predictable, and adequate resources to implement data priorities. Congress should authorize CDOs to use additional funding flexibilities and set-aside authorities, as well as provide increased direct appropriations for CDOs to succeed.”

“Fifty percent of CDOs said they ‘somewhat’ have the resources needed to succeed on their goals. Yet only 35 percent of CDOs felt they had ‘a lot’ or ‘completely’ enough resources,” the report says. “Taken together, this suggests that many CDOs are under-resourced to succeed in the Federal government today.”

The Federal CDO Council is currently scheduled by law to sunset in 2025, and “has proven itself to be a valuable coordinating body and community of practice for CDOs,” the report says. It recommends that Congress make the CDO Council permanent.

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