State Dept analytics hub recruiting data scientists to serve as ‘force multiplier’ for diplomacy

Bureaus and offices across the State Department are looking for data scientists to join the federal workforce and lead its emerging "data science for diplomacy"...

Bureaus and offices across the State Department are looking for data scientists to join the federal workforce and lead its emerging “data science for diplomacy”  initiatives.

The State Department’s Center for Analytics (CfA) on Friday started accepting applications to become GS-13 data scientists as part of an agency-wide hiring initiative.

The department will keep the position open through May 25, or until it receives 400 applications. A similar job announcement closed last year in less than 48 hours, after hitting the maximum number of job applications.

Farakh Khan, division director for CfA’s communications, culture and training team, told Federal News Network the department is planning to make hires “in the double digits,” but said the exact number of new hires remains unclear.

The State Department hired about 50 data scientists last year in its first agency-wide data scientist hiring effort. The department began holding its own data scientist hiring events after participating in a governmentwide data scientist hiring effort in 2021.

The State Department hired about 25-30 data scientists as part of the OPM pilot, more than any other agency that participated.

Berntsen said the department’s unique mission helps CfA recruit in-demand expertise that could other join leading private-sector technology firms.

“We’re serving at a really interesting nexus of data evidence and diplomacy. We have a monopoly on that,” he said. “No tech company, nobody, gets to do actual data analysis and data science for diplomacy. We’ve got a lock on the market, there’s no one else.”

The State Department launched CfA three years ago, and serves as the department’s central hub for data science expertise.

“We have, I would say, more of a startup sort of culture. We really want to most fast. We want to break the bureaucracy,” Deputy Chief Data Officer Garrett Berntsen told prospective applicants during May 2 webinar.

Berntsen said the Center for Analytics operates as a “shared service” for data expertise across the department.

“We hear from our customers in the department — overseas, domestic — what are their problems? What are the problems that are most impacting their management and foreign policy challenges? And then, how can we help?” he said

Khan said the department saw a 36% increase in registrations for this year’s webinar, compared to last year.

“From the inquiries that we’ve received, there’s increased interest in data scientists and interest in registrants wanting to join the State Department, because it’s an ideal place to work and for data scientists who also want to play a role in shaping foreign policy,” she said.

The State Department’s HR office, the Bureau of Global Talent Management, will review applications. Subject-matter experts (SMEs) will then screen applications for specific data science competencies.

Bureaus will then go through their own round of interviews with candidates.

The State Department will develop a shared hiring certificate, or a list of the candidates assessed to be the most qualified for the position.

“By having those SMEs review those resumes before the certificate is issued, we can ensure that hiring managers are receiving the most highly-qualified candidates,” Khan said.

Bureaus and hiring managers will have up to 240 days to hire any candidates on the hiring cert.

“Although we expect selections will be made sooner than that, it allows hiring managers the flexibility to hire anytime within that period.”

This Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment process has been piloted throughout the federal government.

Khan said the department is looking for data scientists with “hard skills” — including programming, statistics, communicating, engineering and communicating data analytics to department leadership.

“We want people who want to contribute to a mission that is bigger than themselves. And we’re one of those places to work that does that,” Khan said.

Data science positions are available in bureaus and offices throughout the department.

Since the launch of its enterprise data strategy in September 2021, the State Department has surged resources toward mission-themed “data campaigns” that include strategic competition, multilateralism, and climate.

“Data is a key pillar of the secretary’s modernization agenda,” Khan said. The secretary sees the value in data and knows that it’s a critical instrument of diplomacy.”

Berntsen said CfA teams spend about six months on each data campaign and work across bureaus to tackle thorny management and mission challenges.

“We purposely find things that are as important to the department as possible — things that are super, super critical. And that if you call a meeting, people actually care about it, and they’re going to come to that meeting,” he said.

The department is also using its data expertise to tackle issues such as diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, as well as cybersecurity global operations.

Khan said data scientists have also become a “force multiplier during crises in which the department leads.”

Data scientists held a frontline role in shaping the department’s worldwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, resettling Afghans following the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and releasing more than 200 political prisoners from Nicaragua earlier this year.

The State Department is continuing to build out its data leadership.

The department appointed six bureau-level chief data officers across January, and Khan said the department is in the process of selecting a second cohort of bureau CDOs.

Bureau CDOs work directly under bureau leadership and in conjunction with the department’s CDO Matthew Graviss.

The department also launched its Post Data Program in March, in an effort to bring data expertise to all 275 of its embassies and consulates overseas.

Khan said the program focuses on upskilling personnel on data skills and embedding data science expertise at every overseas post.

“What it aims to do is to raise data literacy and data analytics capacity at posts,” she said.

As part of this effort, the Bureau of Global Talent Management is also developing data scientist positions for locally employed staff at posts overseas.

“This will aid overseas posts with solving mission challenges, using in-house expertise. This is a new position that posts will be able to take advantage of and hire locally, and help with institutional memory knowledge and consistency remaining at post,” Khan said.

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