The Federal Chief Data Officers Council wants public input on methods and tools that will improve government’s efforts to better generate, use, protect and share data, according to a request for information (RFI) issued Thursday.
Specifically the RFI asks for feedback on overlooked focus areas, data skills and workforce development, data inventories, data sharing, value and maturity, ethics and equity, and technology.
Responses will inform the efforts of the council’s working groups and lead to the development of additional agency guidance, including a white paper on what their data-sharing culture should look like — given the lack of a one-size-fits-all, federal legal regime.
“Even though we don’t want to be biased toward action, there’s a patchwork of laws that apply,” said Dan Morgan, chief data officer at the Department of Transportation, during the council’s meeting Thursday. “Our hypothesis is there’s a lot of commonality in the ways agencies need to implement them.”
Morgan serves as vice chair of the council and chair of its Data Sharing Working Group, which will synthesize, in part, lessons learned from the RFI into a series of use cases designed to improve agencies’ data-sharing postures no matter the legal methods they use to reach agreements.
The council is currently reviewing literature on the subject, but it’s not the first time the government has attempted to address its data sharing problem.
That’s why the RFI asks respondents to provide details about data-sharing arrangements where a federal agency was a party including the authorities and methods used, intent, status, other datasets being linked or matched, lessons learned, and missed opportunities. Respondents are further asked to put forward agencies whose data-sharing practices and partnerships they admire, as well as strong privacy protections.
There’s a procurement angle to the RFI as well, as the council wants to help agencies make wiser purchases that make data more readily accessible.
“There’s obviously an opportunity to buy smarter as the federal government,” Morgan said.
The council’s efforts to improve data sharing mesh well with the Biden administration’s priority of advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities via the Equitable Data Working Group.
After its first meeting in January 2020, the council quickly ran into sharing issues as it began work liberating Department of Health and Human Services data to ensure safe, continued federal operations amid the pandemic.
Advantages of improving federal data sharing extend beyond improving pandemic response to making better climate investments, avoiding improper benefits payments due to fraud, and securely sharing sensitive information on people to keep the U.S. border secure.
On the workforce front the RFI asks what roles, like privacy and records officers, should make up an expanded data team.
“The data workforce is not just data scientists,” Morgan said.
The council also wants to know about continuous learning opportunities.
Concerning data inventories, most of the government’s focus to date has been on public-facing data catalogs, Morgan said. So the RFI asks how respondents find federal data and what they want to find out.
That information will help the council evolve inventory standards by aligning data use cases.
The other three themes of the RFI — value and maturity, ethics and equity, and technology — are cross cutting.
“A lot of our agencies are working on their data strategies … and they’re definitely looking for ways to communicate the value of this work that they’re taking on,” Morgan said.
So the RFI asks about strategies for effective communication.
The Federal Data Ethics Framework was one of the first things the council released, but the RFI asks how it should evolve to address racial equity.
And the RFI also asks about how to modernize technology to break down data silos and better share information.
Respondents have until Nov. 15 to provide input on the RFI.