This week, I joined three outside experts to co-author a paper addressing a unique opportunity in the federal government, titled Data Powered Leadership Reform: A Business Case for Federal Operational Improvements Enabled by Quality Data. Senior federal leaders are currently responding to a rare policy opportunity to address persistent structural management challenges in federal agencies.
Responding to the President’s Government-wide Agency Reorganization Plan
This March, the Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch was issued. The government-wide executive order provides much needed political cover to tackle fundamental challenges and addresses a plan to bring “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” to executive agencies. The resulting directive from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, M-17-22) presents the roadmap for ambitious federal leaders to dramatically alter how business is conducted across the federal government.
In this management order, OMB requires each agency to assess internal business line functions by considering factors like duplication, essentiality, appropriateness of federal ownership (vs. State, local, or private-sector), cost-benefit considerations, efficiency and effectiveness, and customers service goals (see the Table on page 6 of M-17-22). Each agency then owes OMB reorganization plans this fall as part of their FY 2019 budget request. We will start to see the results detailed publicly when the President releases the FY 2019 budget request in February 2019. According to OMB:
The Government-wide Reform Plan will encompass agency-specific reforms, the President’s Management Agenda and Cross-Agency Priority Goals, and other crosscutting reforms. The final reforms included in the Government-wide Reform Plan and the President’s FY 2019 Budget should be reflected in agency strategic plans, human capital operating plans, and IT strategic plan. Agencies will begin implementing some reforms immediately while others will require Congressional action. (see item 7 on page 5 of M-17-22)
If your organization provides products, services, or solutions to the federal government, then you need to be tracking this process. The following graphic breaks down the timeline in detail.
Focusing on Quality Operational Data is the First Step
Our paper, summarized on Nextgov, highlights a fundamental challenge in leading complex, human-powered bureaucratic systems – inadequate operational or material data. We believe that such considerations need to be a fundamental part of this government-wide reorganization process.
Our paper starts by defining the business case for such reforms, and puts this in context of senior agency officials’ daily workflows. We walk through ten specific management challenges such as structural complexity, management feedback loops, the importance of citizen engagement, and the crucial role of political oversight.
Common to all of these business cases is the issue of poor data; both operational (i.e., mission agnostic data that represent the resources, decisions, transactions, outputs, and outcomes of work) and material (i.e., mission specific data that represents persons, places, and things).
Of course, both operational and material data must also be of high quality to be useful. Which means it must be accurate, consistent, and controlled (see this 2016 White House open data roundtable briefing paper as well as the CIO.gov Open Data Principles).
For example, the DATA Act represents an incredibly valuable government-wide operational data set.
If we recognize how funding is a common factor of every federal program, then we can see how money flows through the federal agencies, accurately, consistently, and comprehensively. Then, we illuminate an accurate picture of how the government functions (more here). This is the true value of the DATA Act.
If we focus on building out accurate, consistent, and controlled data, we can start to fix the structural conditions and help federal leaders champion tangible reforms.
Specific Recommendations for this Administration That Don’t Require Legislation
This Administration is providing the environment to accomplish this. But it will require diligence, ingenuity, and coordinated political willpower to achieve any success.
That is why we encourage the primary reliance on high quality data in government-wide management. It is something leaders can immediately agree on while leverage existing efforts.
Our paper provides the following recommendations:
1.OMB should adopt the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DIAMS) as the primary government-wide operational data format to align various agency business functions. With over 400 unique data elements the DAIMS represents the most comprehensive and unified schema of federal operations in US history. The DAIMS links budget, accounting, procurement, and financial assistance datasets that were previously segmented across agency systems and databases.
- OMB should rely on the DAIMS’s open documentation architecture which allows for ready expansion and linkage to other administrative datasets.
- OMB’s required Annual Performance and Annual Financial Report processes should be modernized in a machine-readable, DAIMS aligned schema.
- In accordance with the DATA Act’s Section 5 vision for a grant reporting modernization and the work completed by the HHS DATA Act Program Management Office pilot project, OMB should create a centralized grant reporting process to extend the DAIMS’s ability to track post-award federal spending.
2.OMB should adopt and seek to codify the governance body of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) and encourage the schema’s use as the primary government-wide material data format to facilitate inter-agency and state-local records exchange around shared missions.
- The NIEM project, currently administered voluntarily by DHS, manages the expansion of community-based schema governance processes (there are currently fourteen specific domains including human services, justice, emergency management, etc.). In coordination with the data standardization work of GSA’s US Data Federation (an outgrowth of the Data.gov effort) and Project Open Data, NIEM stands poised to foster a base of standardized material data to inform the natural harmonization of common mission data within agency environments.
3.OMB’s initiative to adopt a government-wide Technology Business Model (TBM) taxonomy, to enable standardized federal technology investment data, should be celebrated.
- As referenced in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request, OMB should build upon the DAIMS as they integrate the TBM within the context of the annual Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) process.
The outlined recommendations are just a starting point for how the Administration, Congress, and federal agencies can truly modernize! I strongly encourage all stakeholders to get behind these crucial data initiatives.