Data Foundation recommends installing federal chief data officer

The White House. (angela n. / Flickr)

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The Data Foundation recommended installing a federal chief data officer in the Office of Management and Budget to vouch for the resources agencies need to meet data requirements, in a report released Tuesday.

Based on its 2022 Survey of Federal CDOs conducted with Guidehouse, the Data Foundation holds a federal CDO within the White House would improve the visibility and capabilities of the entire community.

While the survey found more than 60% of agency CDOs have at least five Federal Data Strategy (FDS) 2021 Action Plan items in progress or completed, less than 20% reported they have most or all of the resources needed for full implementation.

“The reason why we aren’t moving forward is because there’s no leadership,” said Katy Rother, senior advisor for federal policy implementation at the Data Foundation, during a webinar on the survey results. “Putting people in a position of leadership, giving them a seat at the table to prioritize the resources that are available, is the only way to get this done.”

Though the Federal CDO Council released its 2021 Action Plan in October of that year, some agencies hadn’t finished implementing the 2020 Action Plan and spent the beginning of fiscal 2022 conducting quality assessments of data infrastructure, skills and assets.

The most commonly completed action items are gathering and assessing data to answer priority questions and improving data inventories.

CDOs face a number of hurdles completing the rest, namely the many data requirements contained in not only the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, OPEN Government Data Act and Geospatial Data Act but five executive orders and memos that lack any funding for data collection, management and retrieval. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law added even more, sometimes vague, data management requirements for specific agencies, said Jason Duke, CDO at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Duke’s Data Division has grown from one to 14 employees ensuring metadata is created for all data and uploaded to a catalog linked to repositories containing complete datasets, as well as captured in data management plans via a centralized template. He also ensured that his agency’s Data Management Policy was updated and a Data Management Handbook and Data Standards Policy created. 

The Data Division created a SharePoint site updated daily, devoted a staff member to customer experience, and is currently working on minimum standards for spatial and aspatial metadata, but Duke wants more resources.

CDOs seek better infrastructure and governance practices, more staff and training, increased OMB check-ins, extra funding, and greater clarity on how their role differs from that of the chief information officer, according to the Data Foundation’s survey.

The Data Foundation recommended that OMB include increased funding for CDOs in its fiscal 2023 budget request and clarify the role of the CDO with guidance mandated by the Evidence Act. The Federal CDO Council’s sunset period should be eliminated, as it’s proven its value, according to the report.

“We’re being asked, as CDOs in the federal government, to do more and more regarding data,” Duke said. “And we’re not really as a whole receiving additional budgeted monies targeted for that specific purpose.”

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chief data officer (CDO), data, Data Foundation, Federal CDO Council, federal chief data officer, Federal Data Strategy, Jason Duke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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