The Data Coalition’s October 2019 GovDATAx summit showcased the tremendous progress underway to extract more value from data the government already collects. GovDATAx also highlighted key areas for future progress to benefit society. Here are four take-aways from the dialogue:
#1: Data and evidence issues have strong bipartisan appeal
Even in a polarized political environment, Republicans and Democrats can coalesce around the need for better information on which to make decisions. The bipartisan Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) and the unanimous recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking were raised numerous times by GovDATAx participants – along with calls for effective implementation. In keynote remarks from former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and in a message from Senator Patty Murray (D), the bipartisan duo articulated that using data and evidence is a path to reducing poverty, increasing educational attainment, and improving the quality of life for the American public. Advancing an agenda for better use of data and evidence may even hold potential to create a common ground for navigating future political and policy debates.
#2: Government is making real progress in recognizing data as a strategic asset
The Federal Data Strategy and prioritizing data governance as part of the President’s Management Agenda is leading to a long-term, comprehensive strategy for ensuring government data benefits the American public. Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley, one of the champions of the Federal Data Strategy, expressed confidence that the strategy is realistic and actionable. Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician of the United States, enthusiastically described the new opportunities created by the OPEN Government Data Act for opening more data to the public and making program evaluation easier to conduct. Individuals serving in the new chief data officer and evaluation officer roles described how cultures are changing within federal agencies, and the increasing recognition within government of the need to better apply existing data to generate analysis for decision-making. Culture change takes time, but the federal government is well on its way.
#3: New data leaders need support and resources to be effective
While government is making progress, the new chief data officers, evaluation officers, and statistical officials created by the Evidence Act still need more support to fulfill their new authorities and obligations to the American people. Multiple speakers throughout the day held the title “acting” chief data officers and articulated that agencies need to move rapidly to appoint or hire permanent employees for the job. Jose Arietta from the Department of Health and Human Services and Dorothy Aronson from the National Science Foundation, both in acting chief data officer roles while also serving as chief information officers, acknowledged that chief data officers and chief information officers positions should ideally be filled by different people. Beyond the individuals, some agencies still need to allocate funding to prioritize and resource these leaders. Finally, the Commerce Department’s Chief Data Officer, Ed Kearns, noted that empowering leaders to establish collaborations between the public and private sector will be key.
#4: There is still room for more advances in government’s data policies
Throughout GovDATAx, speakers highlighted that, while progress has been made, there’s still a long road in some sectors for improving data-driven decision-making. A discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) highlighted that, despite dozens of successful AI projects across government, the barriers to adoption and use of AI are vast; these must be addressed with targeted policy guidance and potential nudges from Congress. Representative Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NY) keynote made clear that structured data can improve financial reporting and lower the burden and costs of complying with government regulations for small businesses. A fireside chat with Dino Falaschetti from the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research and Securities and Exchange Commissioner Rob Jackson stressed the need for the U.S. to adopt a common, non-proprietary legal entity identifier to improve the information for financial system oversight and market efficiency. A panel discussion on immigration statistics delved into the contemporaneous challenges with linking and managing sensitive data, and that government must take steps to protect public trust, ensure confidentiality when promised, and responsibly use the data it collects. In these ways and more, there is still much work to do to improve government data policy.
Moving forward, the data community can look to the Data Coalition to support and advocate for responsible policy as the Federal Data Strategy’s Year One Action plan is released, as OMB publishes draft rules and guidance documents, and as attention turns to new legislation and priorities for data policy in coming months and years.