The government’s need for a greater IT- and data-knowledgeable workforce is the reason that federal innovation is not moving forward as quickly as officials would like it, according to the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert.

“Every time I asked, ‘Why can’t we do x, y, z differently?’ I was given some version of ‘We don’t have the right people to lead the change, we don’t have the right skills to deal with that challenge, we can’t get people in the door fast enough with the most modern perspectives,’ ” said Weichert Oct. 10 at a Data Foundation event.

She explained that when forming the President’s Management Agenda, administration officials distilled the government’s innovation challenges into three “gears” that could drive change forward: IT infrastructure, data accountability and transparency, and workforce.

Of the three, workforce proved to be the most central roadblock in many innovation projects.

“The people gear is at the bottom because a lot of times that was where we got stopped,” said Weichert.

“We made progress on IT modernization, maybe we made progress on data, but we would get stuck on this people stuff. And so thinking about this as a systems equation is how I like to solve complex problems.”

Weichert recently took over as acting director for the Office of Personnel Management, and while she said she has only had about 24 hours actually working on the job, she expects data to be a big component of her leadership at the agency.

“There’s a lot that I need to get from a baseline perspective, but what I did tell the team yesterday is that I have two primary areas of focus,” said Weichert.

Making progress on the President’s Management Agenda was the first area, Weichert said, while the second was general management activities.

“Data is in that category. It’s an important agency — it’s not unduly large — but it’s a 6,000-person organization facing a lot of change, statutorily driven change that started with the [National Defense Authorization Act] and the decision to transfer background investigations,” said Weichert.

“So, managing through change with data is how I operate, so I anticipate I will be asking for tons of data.”

Workforce and data are also likely to be the two top priorities of the new Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center, which closed out its request for information in mid-September and, according to Weichert, will likely be stood up sometime in 2019.

That center — which brings together government, academia and the public sector to work on complex government problems — will ideally “showcase the power of open data,” according to Weichert.

More open government data will also help contribute to the overall U.S. economy, she added, because entire companies are able to use government data sets to power apps and programs that employ hundreds of U.S. workers.

“That’s what you can do with open data. It’s powerful, and it is a potential asset that can grow our economy,” said Weichert.

“How do we get the people who have the skillsets to deal and innovate and create with this open data?”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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