As the federal government looks to implement the draft Federal Data Strategy’s action items later this year, industry voices argue the Trump administration should revise some of the strategy’s 16 action items to focus on literacy, culture and quality.
The action items, which were released June 4, lay out how the government will use its data to “align existing efforts and establish a firm basis of tools, processes and capacities to leverage data as a strategic asset.” These items are in the process of revisions based on public comments.
At a public forum on the Office of Management and Budget’s data strategy, industry leaders made several recommendations for changes to the action plan. And one action item missing from the current plan is data literacy, numerous panelists said.
“Because data is coming at us at such a fast rate, there should be a stress on data literacy, which is also around basic self-sufficiency,” said Gerard Valerio, senior sales consulting manager at Tableau, a data visualization software company.
To increase literacy and implement the data strategy successfully, the government needs to invest in training of their employees, said Heather Gittings, a senior director of public sector and health care at Qlik, a data visualization company.
“Make sure that everyone is able to leverage the data and what comes out of it,” Gittings said. She added,“it’s really, really critical to not just focus on the data scientist, but also make sure that everyone is comfortable using data.”
It’s not just mid-level employees either — all decision makers within an agency need to be both digitally and data literate, said Jane Wiseman, CEO of the Institute for Excellence in Government, a nonprofit consulting firm that supports government.
“If we’re going to have data-driven government, decision makers need to be able to … be literate. I don’t have to write like Tolstoy or Faulkner to be able to read and enjoy, so in the same way I want managers to be literate enough to lead organizations that are filled with data,” Wiseman said.
Culture change within departments was also identified by numerous panelists as a significant step toward successful implementation. In order to force this change, accountability for agency data needs to move to the top, Wiseman said.
“What I would love to see is an annual data strategy [where] ... the cabinet secretary is held accountable for delivering,” Wiseman said. “Chief data officers are amazing, but no chief data officer can succeed without executive support.”
The comments on culture change prompted a question from a data strategy working group member who cited a concern the group has heard from federal employees about a lack of specific action to force culture change. Michael Anderson, chief federal strategist at Informatica, a cloud software company, said it was a hard issue to take address.
“I’m not sure you can have an action that addresses that,” said Anderson.
But Anderson did note that having a definitive action plan in place was already a way to “address that issue across the federal government.” The issue circled back to leadership from the top, he said, agreeing with fellow speakers.
“The hard part is implementing. It’s going to take strong executive leadership and attention,” Anderson said.
Another hole in the data strategy is an action item on data quality, or the insightfulness and usability of the data an agency collects, said Vishal Kapur, a principal at Deloitte Consulting. Kapur said agencies should track their data quality as they work on different projects to “create an enterprise view of data quality on the key subject areas at the organization level.”
“An emphasis on data quality as an enterprise initiative would be a good thing,” Kapur said.
An additional challenge in implementing the strategy is that government agencies are all in different places in terms of their data management. To solve this disparities problem, Kapur said that OMB should add a platform for agencies to share information to speed up the process.
“I think we should look at shared platform for agencies to learn from each other, share successes and failures so we use the power of the crowd … to solve problems,” Kapur said.
The public comment period for the data strategy ends July 8.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.