A key step of the federal government’s data strategy action plan is complete: the chief data officer council met Jan. 31 — marking an important step for the federal government’s pursuit of harnessing its data as a strategic asset.

“Today’s meeting with the CDOs is going to be our operational meeting,” federal CIO Suzette Kent told reporter at a roundtable before the meeting. “What is the council charged with? What are their roles and responsibilities? How do we leverage that body to accelerate the items that are in this plan and how do we use that as a body to be helpful to the agencies as they seek to fulfill their duties as CDOs?”

As part of federal data strategy year-one action plan, released in late December, the Office of Management and Budget was responsible for launching the CDO council by the end of the January.

The federal data strategy year-one action plan outlines 20 actions agencies need to implement in 2020, along with specific deadlines. For example, agencies must identify data they need to answer “priority agency questions” and publish plans for identifying data assets they’ll make available to the public. Department CDOs, mandated under the Evidence Act signed into law in 2019, are crucial to complete these actions.

“They are some of the primary individuals we’re counting on to deliver the items in [the action plan],” Kent said.

The CDO council will play an important role in ensuring that data is treated similarly across the government. Until recently, OMB Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert told reporters, the phrase “big data” had a different meaning depending on the data user’s role in government. For example, she said, financial officials thought about data for budgeting, while scientists thought of data as a mechanism to drive outcomes.

“The CDO council is really an operational arm … around the overall framework for the President’s Management Agenda and data as a strategic asset – so standardization is a huge component of that,” Weichert said, referring to the document that details the federal government’s modernization priorities.

According to action seven of the plan, the CDO council will “meet regularly” and develop resources pertaining to the best practices of data protection and dissemination, along with encouraging agencies actually use the resources it produces. In terms of metrics for success, the CDO council will be evaluated on the number of resources it publishes and track adoption of the published best practices by agencies.

The council is also tasked with identifying and evaluating new technologies that will advance in how federal agencies collect and use data.

“We’re not doing data plans for data wonks; we’re doing data plans and data thinking to drive mission, service and stewardship,” Weichert said.

The year-one action plan is the first piece of the 10-year data strategy horizon. Other actions in the plan include upskilling workforce, taking steps toward better data management and creating frameworks and toolkits for handling data. Kent emphasized in the roundtable that the actions in the first plan were “foundational,” adding that more will be added in future plans, which will come out yearly.

“At the end of this year, if we have the teams in place with the skills, that’s a success,” Kent said. “If we have our inventories and our assessments … that is a win for this year. If we’re starting to bring ideas around how we accelerate both tools [and] sharing, those are wins. Getting agencies to have the conversations and clarity around what they want to solve, those are all exciting moves forward.”

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.

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