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OMB: Agencies need to break down walls and unlock big data

May. 22, 2014 - 04:50PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

Agencies need to knock down institutional barriers and work with other agencies in order to unlock the potential of big data, a top agency official said May 22.

Kathryn Stack, the adviser for evidence-based innovation at the Office of Management and Budget, said at the IBM Government Analytics Forum in Washington that too often agencies waste money building systems and investing in programs that do not help the mission or duplicate something already done somewhere else.

She has formed a small team of people at OMB who are working to build cooperation between agencies to allow for more data to be shared and analyzed across government.

“We are really focused on trying to drive a conversation across the government of moving away from compliance toward learning and experimentation but doing it with rigorous analytics and evaluations so we can really drive more effectiveness in government,” Stack said.

She said the government sits on a treasure trove of data but is sometimes unable to access that data because they are held at different agencies or are locked in closed systems that limit access. But using that data to help improve outcomes can have a big impact.

Some examples of data sharing across government include:

■The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Center for Medicaid Services combining their data to see the health outcomes of people receiving housing benefits.

■The Education Department and the Social Security Administration using a combination of data to determine the income and student loan debt ratio of students attending for-profit schools.

■Agencies across government using a pilot program to allow states and local governments to combine grant funding to better help at-risk youth and send back detailed data on the cost-effectiveness of the programs.

Agencies sometimes make poor choices because they are only looking at the problem through a narrowly defined scope, and should use data analytics to look at the problem from multiple angles and figure out solutions that will achieve the biggest impact.

Stack said agencies should also work on removing data requirements that serve no purpose or are not high enough quality to base decisions off of that agencies still collect from contractors.

But not only can agencies save taxpayer dollars by using big data and data analytics to solve problems and boost efficiencies, they might come out ahead when the administration needs to make tough decisions about which programs to fund.

“The agencies that can show they are using data and evidence on a regular basis to make decisions or programs that can show that — they are going to fare well. First of all their performance is going to improve and secondly they are going to get favored status in the annual budget decisions,” Stack said.

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