IT & Networks

What agencies need to implement the Federal Data Strategy

PHILADELPHIA — Departments across the government continue to be scattered in terms of implementation of the Federal Data Strategy, but they recognize what they need to do to be successful, said Federal Deputy Chief Information Officer Margie Graves.

“People know what their mission outsources need to drive and the data that supports it,” said Graves, speaking Oct. 22 at the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council Imagine Nation conference in Philadelphia. “All we have to do now is get the governance, the team and the structure in place to take it to the next level.”

The interim chief data officer at the Department of Commerce, Edward Kearns, said that the data strategy presents an “incredible opportunity” for data and collaboration between its internal agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“They’re really good at a few particular things,” Kearns said. “None of us are good at everything, but we recognize that if we march together and actually talk about this, [if] we can coordinate our efforts, we have a lot to learn from each other.”

To get a better idea of the data needs and capabilities across the Commerce Department, Kearns is going on a listening tour through the department’s many agencies. So far he’s found that agencies have workforce challenges and need training for data scientists.

According to Karen Dunn Kelley, the deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce, the agency collects and disseminates more data than any other department in the government.

Graves added that the Office of Management and Budget is partnering with Commerce, the Office of Personnel Management and 14 other agencies to develop the data scientist hiring strategy.

They’re working together to “define what a good data scientist looks like [and] how do we partner with universities to create the pipeline that brings in data scientists into the federal government," Graves said.

Graves also mentioned that OMB is looking to solve data literacy challenges within the current workforce.

The government is reckoning with colossal amounts of data. Dunn Kelley said that her agency collects more than 20 terabytes a day, which she said could fill 10 million phone books.

With data sitting in silos throughout the government, OMB wants to foster better information sharing throughout the government. Graves said agencies have made “some progress.” Asked what was needed in terms of regulation or law to break down information-sharing barriers, Graves said she wasn’t sure legislation could solve that problem and that it would have to be broad to set a “stage.”

“We don’t want it to be too granular that [it] would actually prevent things from evolving because we’re going to run into challenges along the way and we want to be able to address those challenges with some level of flexibility just working among the agencies,” said Graves.

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