Data Coalition Co-Hosts Public Forum on Federal Data Strategy


From left to right: Robert Dolan, Tableau; Patrick McCollum, DeepBD; Mark Stodder, Xcential; Marc Teerlink, SAP; Sherry Weir, Kearney & Company.

Earlier this year, the Administration released their vision for the way our government can better collect and leverage data in four main categories:

1. Enterprise Data Governance.
2. Access, Use, and Augmentation.
3. Decision Making & Accountability.
4. Commercialization, Innovation, and Public Use.

The Federal Data Strategy will define principles and practices for data management in the federal government. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is collaborating with the private sector, trade association, academia, and civil society to gather feedback and comments on the proposed strategy.

The Data Coalition joined the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and OMB to co-host a public forum discussing the Federal Data Strategy, last week (November 8th). The second in a series on the strategy, this forum allowed the public, businesses and other stakeholders to comment on the recently published draft set of practices. Data Coalition members DeepBD, Elder Research, Morningstar, SAP, Tableau, and Xcential as well as Data Foundation supporter companies Kearney and Company and REI Systems provided feedback on the strategy of the proposed practices. In their comments, members emphasized the value of federal data as applied in analytics, a standards-based modeling path, and the use of machine-readable forms that would create a better link between government services and citizens.

Most commenters acknowledged that the Federal Data Strategy strategy represents an effort to initiate much-needed changes to the cultures around data across agencies and offered ways to improve the practices and implementation. Some attendees emphasized the need for greater clarity on the draft practices and provided examples of how the government can maximize the value of its data. Clarity and direction, they argued, would help move the strategy from an idea to a potential set of actionable steps for cultural changes.

Better data utilization and management were was noted as a key to the success of the strategy. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) has significantly increased the quality of the data reported to the government. Our members who provided public statements were quick to bring attention to these improvements and how the DATA Act set the groundwork to fortify potential efforts to reach CAP Goals 2 (Data as a Strategic Asset) and 8 (Results-Oriented Accountability for Grants Management).

According to Sherry Weir of Kearney & Company, if OMB starts with a budget request in the same standardized data format, the U.S. Treasury and agencies could then merge DATA Act data reported information (USAspending.gov) with federal appropriations bills. This connection is only possible with intelligent data stewardship, but it has the ability to connect otherwise disparate datasets across the budget lifecycle and provide insights that can motivate better more informed federal spending and policymaking.

Throughout the day, a few commenters expressed concern over the complexity of the current draft strategy. They pointed out that the strategy, laid out across forty-seven practices and organized into ten principles, is too unwieldy for executive decision makers to readily articulate across their organization’s. The MITRE Corporation suggested that the strategy could be cut down to a single-page reference document and provided an example.

It would be no simple task to distill the strategy. Panelists suggested that the Federal Data Strategy Team looks for small wins in data modernization efforts to build momentum on the larger goals.

Larger conclusions presented by commenters included a view that the strategy fails if public servants cannot work across agency data silos to make better, data-driven management decisions that best serve the public.

Stewardship is key to the success of the Federal Data Strategy, and the Administration needs sustained leadership to guide it in order to create to most value out its vast stores of data. With the feedback of all these industry leaders, advocates, and data experts, OMB is now tasked with using the public perspective to build a data strategy that facilitates efficient government data management.

The Data Coalition was thrilled to partner with BPC and OMB on this important forum. Audio recordings of the forum are available online as well as social media coverage of the event. As a reminder for interested parties, public comments on the updated Federal Data Strategy are due by Friday, November 23. Comments can be submitted online in various forms. The Data Coalition will be providing its own written comments on the Federal Data Strategy that will we hope the Administration strongly considered when forming the final strategy.