The White House released its long-anticipated Federal Data Strategy June 4, with a strong focus on practices that make current agency data more useable and transparent while maintaining security and ethical use of that data.

“Today’s Federal Data Strategy propels us forward to a new era for the way government manages data,” said federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent in a statement.

“Unlocking untapped potential within federal data will help grow the economy, increase efficiency in government and better address complex problems using data-driven approaches. To stay competitive globally, it is imperative that we make data more usable and accessible.”

The strategy promotes 10 principles across three categories that “are intended to guide federal and federally sponsored data management activities” in the future: ethical governance, conscious design and learning culture.

In practice, this means that agencies will be asked to undertake 40 actions to build cultures that value data and its public use, protect their data, and promote the efficient and appropriate use of that data within the agency.

“By prioritizing data uses, the federal government can derive more value from otherwise unanticipated or secondary uses of data assets, and more strategically execute data management improvements,” the data strategy memorandum reads.

“The importance of protecting individual privacy is integrated and emphasized throughout the strategy.”

Under the first practice, agencies are asked to consider the current and potential use cases of their data, and how those uses could benefit those the agency serves.

“To derive value from these potential uses, agencies need leadership champions, management buy-in and staff capacity to conduct the data-driven decision-making cycle that prioritizes the informative value of data,” the memo reads.

Agencies have been instructed to:

  1. Identify data needs to answer key agency questions
  2. Assess and balance the needs of stakeholders
  3. Champion data use
  4. Use data to guide decision-making
  5. Prepare to share
  6. Convey insights from data
  7. Use data to increase accountability
  8. Monitor and address public perceptions
  9. Connect data functions across agencies
  10. Provide resources explicitly to leverage data assets

Under the second practice, agencies are required to create a governance structure that ensures their data is properly managed and protected.

“A data governance structure helps agencies use data to answer important questions while meeting legal and ethical requirements essential to maintaining public trust, including protecting privacy and ensuring confidentiality,” the memo reads.

Agencies have the largest number of action items under this practice:

  1. Prioritize data governance
  2. Govern data to protect confidentiality and privacy
  3. Protect data integrity
  4. Convey data authenticity
  5. Assess maturity
  6. Inventory data assets
  7. Recognize the value of data assets
  8. Manage with a long view
  9. Maintain data documentation
  10. Leverage data standards
  11. Align agreements with data management requirements
  12. Identify opportunities to overcome resource obstacles
  13. Allow amendment
  14. Enhance data preservation
  15. Coordinate federal data assets
  16. Share data between state, local and tribal governments and federal agencies

Under the final practice, agencies will be required to ensure that their data is not only used to beneficial effect, but that those who shouldn’t be using such data are denied access.

“Access to data resources includes practices related to sharing data assets, including open data and tiered access to protected data, disclosure review and interoperability of federal data,” the memo reads.

“Use of data resources includes practices related to data documentation, emerging technologies for protecting confidential data and federal data expertise.”

The work required for promoting the efficient and appropriate use of data often will require collaboration with other agencies and with those outside of government:

  1. Increase capacity for data management and analysis
  2. Align quality with intended use
  3. Design data for use and re-use
  4. Communicate planned and potential uses of data
  5. Explicitly communicate allowable use
  6. Harness safe data linkage
  7. Promote wide access
  8. Diversify data access methods
  9. Review data releases for disclosure risk
  10. Leverage partnerships
  11. Leverage buying power
  12. Leverage collaborative computing platforms
  13. Support federal stakeholders
  14. Support non-federal stakeholders

The strategy also creates a draft one-year action plan to address the goals laid out in the memorandum, wherein designated entities will develop and share governmentwide resources and tools for implementing the Federal Data Strategy, specific agencies will be tasked with improving the management and use of certain data, and agencies will be tasked to work with each other and other stakeholders to determine how they can better make their data serve internal and external needs.

Agency comments on that action plan are due July 5.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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