Leveraging government data: How it’s making a difference

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The President’s Management Agenda (PMA), released in March 2018, presents “a long term vision for modernizing the Federal Government.” As part of its focus on mission, service, and stewardship, the PMA calls for creating a Federal Data Strategy and infrastructure for the future. Earlier this week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and its government partners released an update on plans for the Federal Data Strategy, which you can read about here.

Today, the nonprofit Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE) published a report designed to help advance the Federal Data Strategy. The report presents key takeaways from a Roundtable on Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset, co-hosted by OMB and CODE on Wednesday, May 23. This event brought together more than 80 experts from federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, nonprofits, and academia. Their input on challenges and successes using federal data can help develop the Federal Data Strategy and its associated Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal.

The Roundtable opened with remarks from federal leaders including Suzette Kent, U.S. federal CIO; Margaret Weichert, the OMB deputy director for management; and Nancy Potok, chief statistician of the United States. After several lightning talks on innovative uses of federal data, participants broke into small working groups.

While some of their discussions focused on broad strategies for using federal data more effectively, including data sharing, data standards, and privacy protection, roundtable participants also identified a number of specific, successful data initiatives. These success stories, serve both as inspiring models of federal data application and as examples of broader approaches:

  • Cross-agency initiatives that advance evidence-based policymaking. Many participants cited the U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program as a successful data initiative that has been very valuable for policymakers and researchers trying to address complex socio-economic challenges.
  • Research collaborations that expand the capacity for data analysis. There is a wide range of successful cooperative efforts between the federal government and the academic research community, including Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (RDCs), which have helped to address issues in data quality and analysis, and the NORC Research Institute at the University of Chicago, a highly secure data enclave to share confidential data.
  • Data-driven tools and platforms that improve the lives of citizens. Participants highlighted the Police Data Initiative, which uses federal, state, and local government data to improve crime prevention, encourage novel approaches to problem-solving, and build connections between law enforcement agencies and their respective communities. Others pointed to the College Scorecard as a strong example of combining datasets from multiple federal agencies to help students and families assess opportunities for higher education.
  • Community-driven data standards that facilitate data exchange. The National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network (PCORnet) uses a Common Data Model (CDM) to make information accessible to researchers around the world in a way that facilitates combining data from different datasets. The success of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) was also referenced as a model for improving data exchanges between the Federal Government and state and local governments.
  • Unique identifiers that help link together multiple data sets. Participants pointed to the value of the Legal Entity Identifier (LEI), which makes it possible to link together information about legal entities participating in financial transactions, as well as ORCID, which similarly makes connections between researchers and their research contributions.
  • Initiatives that publish high-value data for public use. Participants agreed that federal data is most useful when it is made available in ways that can easily be used by the public. Some focused on large troves of publicly-available data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which are easily available via NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), and the National Address Database, an initiative managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provides publicly accessible geospatial data for the private sector as well as federal, state, and local government.

At the roundtable, Weichert said in a keynote that “Doing this well requires collaboration across government, industry, and academia to deliver better results.” The ultimate goal is to “drive real change and transform how the federal government leverages data to enhance mission delivery and service while providing a foundation for economic growth.”

Weichert’s remarks were echoed in several blog posts from the White House, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, and also in comments from private-sector participants in the roundtable. “The roundtable surfaced critical issues and identified valuable opportunities in multiple sectors,” said Kathy Conrad, director of digital government at Accenture Federal Services. “Making data more accessible and usable across agencies will allow the government and other stakeholders to better use these assets – powered by high-impact advanced analytics –  to address many cross-cutting issues.”

The Federal Data Strategy “should encourage the shattering of siloed approaches to data management, helping the government to realize substantially more value from the data it creates and manages,” said Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Vice President Bryce Pippert. “Continued leadership and community-building, as we saw at the Roundtable, will be important in the months ahead to see the vision begin to be realized. There remains a clear need for common data platforms accessible across agencies and for more cross-agency planning around data standards and data sharing.”

Developing and implementing the Federal Data Strategy will take time and will involve experts and thought leaders from inside and outside the federal government. This kind of continued public engagement can help turn high-level plans for the Federal Data Strategy into a more concrete reality.

Joel Gurin is President of the Center for Open Data Enterprise, where Katarina Rebello is Director of Programs. The Center thanks its Open Data Partners, Accenture Federal Services and Booz Allen Hamilton, for supporting its work on the Open Data Roundtable series.

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Center for Open Data Enterprise, Federal Data Strategy, Joel Gurin, Katarina Rebello, Kathy Conrad, Margaret Weichert, open data, Presidents Management Agenda, Suzette Kent