Will all feds need to become data literate?

The federal government is grappling with ever-increasing resources of data and not enough personnel to manage and make use of it all, meaning that more federal employees may soon be required to learn the basics of how to use data.

According to Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent and Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget Margaret Weichert, while the government moves to actively recruit and train employees with data-specific skillsets, employees in other jobs may be required to develop some of the basics.

“The data needs that we have are immense. So almost any job that we have in government that is not a direct customer-serving job is going to have major data components to it,” Weichert said at a Jan. 31 presentation on Federal Data Strategy 2020 action items.

Kent and Weichert have worked with both the Office of Personnel Management and individual agencies to examine options in hiring and training for the government’s data needs, but Kent said that “for the everyday federal worker, the expectation [is] that we’re making data available, and that we’re intentional in how we’re using it to solve problems, and that our output for many things is data — not a report, not a piece of paper, something that’s searchable — and that there is a concept of data providence.”

The expectation of data knowledge is part of a larger push to ensure that federal employees have a foundational understanding in areas like IT and people.

“In general, we need to upskill the entire workforce in all of those dimensions,” said Weichert.

To address the more complex data challenges agencies face, the administration also plans to kickstart a data reskilling academy, much like its current cyber reskilling academy.

“The data science reskilling is about people who have the hands-on roles in delivering this and the data activities at agencies,” said Kent.

The cyber reskilling academy has thus far fallen short of expectations, as early reports of its graduates note that employees are unable to find jobs in the cyber field that pay more or equal to their current positions.

Weichert has in the past pointed to the rigid nature of the general schedule system as unable to account for the value of the additional cyber skillset, and said at the Jan. 31 presentation that the overall job classification system may need to be reexamined.

"We’re asking some fundamental questions about the role of classification in general,” said Weichert.

“Even the notion of classification is probably not the most important issue. We need to say what are the competencies?”

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