The American public provides an incredible amount of information to the federal government – valued at $140 billion each year. This information is provided as part of businesses complying with regulations, individuals and firms paying taxes, and individuals applying for programs.
The development of the Executive Branch’s Federal Data Strategy is an effort to better organize and use all of that information to improve decision-making. On July 8, 2019, the Data Coalition joined the White House to co-sponsor a public forum gathering feedback on what actions the federal government will undertake over the next year to begin implementing the data strategy.
Kicking off the event, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, stressed a key goal of the strategy is to “liberate” government data for society’s use, noting that nearly 90 percent of government data go unused. During the forum, 52 speakers – including 12 members of the Data Coalition – and more than 100 other experts provided input on how to improve the draft plan.
Here are fourtake-aways from the public comments provided during the forum:
#1. Leadership is Essential for Realizing Culture Change
New legislation enacted in early 2019 creates several new positions in government agencies, such as the chief data officers, evaluation officers, and statistical experts. Throughout the public forum, speakers stressed the need for these leaders to be empowered to institute changes within federal agencies, and informed about how to most effectively implement best practices for data access, management, and use.
Several speakers specifically stressed the critical role for newly established chief data officers in improving data quality and usefulness across government, in addition to providing improved training and tools for agencies to equip the federal workforce to use data. The concept of data literacy was also prominently featured, meaning that throughout federal agencies the workforce should be trained routinely about responsibilities and techniques for responsibly managing and using data.
#2. Targeted Data Standards Offer Opportunities for Efficiency
The need for improved data standards was discussed by speakers on more than half the panels during the event, with suggestions that the Federal Data Strategy could do more to encourage standards in the areas of financial regulatory reporting, agency spending and grant management, geospatial data, and organizational entities. For example, multiple speakers highlighted the potential opportunity to include more direction about the adoption of common business entity identifiers, like the globally-recognized Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) created, as a means of improving analytical capabilities while also reducing reporting burdens from regulated entities.
#3. Partnerships are an Important Element for Success
Many speakers noted their appreciation for the opportunity to provide feedback on the data strategy, and encouraged ongoing collaboration with those outside government through public-private partnerships. As the strategy is implemented over the next year, industry, non-profits, academics, and others in the American public should have opportunities to weigh in and hold agencies accountable for achieving the stated goals in the plan. Partnerships also offer agencies a specific means to coordinate with those outside of government to ensure the implemented policies and practices achieve meaningful improvements in the country’s data infrastructure.
#4. Coordination at OMB and Agencies is Key
Finally, because government data collected by one agency are often relevant for another, coordination is a critical component of success in the Federal Data Strategy. Speakers highlighted that the proposed OMB Data Council could serve as a model for agencies about how to work across interests, laws, and policy domains to achieve lasting change. But coordination must be achieved or promoted not just by OMB; it is also a responsibility for every agency to coordinate within its own programs and leaders to promote culture change, a data literate workforce, and to allocate resources to achieve the goals of the strategy.
In the coming months, the action plan will be finalized and publicly released, incorporating the comments from the Coalition-White House public forum along with other written feedback. The Data Coalition looks forward to continuing to partner with the federal government to ensure our national data policies truly make data an asset for the country.
To read the Data Coalition’s comments on the Strategy’s Draft Action Plan, click here.