OMB adds 4 new action items for agencies to meet next year in finalized Federal Data Strategy

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Federal agencies will face a slew of New Year’s resolutions in 2020, now that the Trump administration has released the final draft of its Federal Data Strategy.

Among the 20 agency actions identified in the final one-year action plan of the Federal Data Strategy, the Office of Management and Budget has a month to launch a governmentwide Chief Data Officers Council, while agencies have six months to complete an assessment of their workforce’s data literacy and data skills.

Another six months after that, agencies must develop a performance plan to close the skills gaps identified in those inventories.

“Federal data has great potential to improve the way government delivers services, to inform research, and to catalyze innovation and grow the economy,” OMB wrote in the action plan released Monday. “The views of stakeholders were essential for ensuring that the strategy fully leverages Federal data to provide quality services for the American people, add value for business, and increase government effectiveness and transparency while maintaining data security and preserving privacy and confidentiality.”

While the majority of the strategy’s principles stem from a draft version that OMB released in June, the agency, based on feedback from the public, added four new objectives to the final draft:

  • Publish and update data inventories.
  • Launch a Federal Chief Data Officer Council.
  • Develop data quality measuring and reporting guidance.
  • Develop a data standards repository.

Aside from the new goals for agencies in the one-year action plan, the final version of the Federal Data Strategy offers small tweaks to the draft plan, as suggested by more than 600 written comments received by OMB.

Commenters generally describe the draft strategy’s principles as “clear, well-founded, and right on target,” but suggested re-wording and elevating certain goals and objectives.

One of the draft principles on data “stewardship,” for example, has now been rebranded as “ethical governance” in the final draft.

The final version also borrows language from OMB’s Circular A-130 memo to reiterate the administration’s focus on leveraging data as a strategic asset. That language, OMB’s action plan states, also recognizes the “natural tension that exists between the need to collect and use data and the need to minimize burden and protect privacy.”

Common themes in the public feedback on the draft strategy include improving data literacy across the federal workforce, improving data quality and publishing data inventories that are discoverable to the public.

Since the release of the draft Federal Data Strategy in June, agencies have already launched several projects to address these areas of concern.

In a spinoff from the Trump administration’s efforts to retrain federal employees for hard-to-fill cybersecurity jobs, the Office of Management and Budget last month announced that it would soon launch a reskilling pilot aimed at bringing the federal workforce up to speed on data science skills, and would also bring federal managers up to speed with data literacy skills.

The Census Bureau announced a similar data reskilling project earlier this month that would combine online and in-person coursework, mentor sessions and a capstone project that would put these developing skills to the test.

OMB also expects to release proposed guidelines for agencies to provide “tiered” access to their data, based on the sensitivity of that information, as well as pilot a single governmentwide application for researchers seeking access to sensitive data not available to the public.

The latter set of proposals follow a recommendation by Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking to create a National Secure Data Service. The commission laid out the proposals that became the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in January.

However, the administration will kick off the 2020 data strategy without two of its biggest advocates on board. Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer Margie Graves will leave government at the end of the year for a job in the private sector and Chief Statistician Nancy Potok has announced her retirement, also effective at the end of the year.

The final version of the Federal Data Strategy has also added two new practices to its lists of 40 drafts goals for agencies to meet:

  • Provide resources to explicitly leverage data assets: “Ensure that sufficient human and fiscal resources are available to support using data for agency decision making and accountability and to spur commercialization, innovation, and public use.”
  • Align quality with intended use: “Data likely to inform important public policy or private sector decisions must be of appropriate utility, integrity, and objectivity.”

Since July 2018, OMB has held six in-person forums to solicit feedback on the Federal Data Strategy – some open to the public, and others limited to federal government officials.

Over the course of this listening tour, OMB has heard from more than 140 speakers and had more than 900 people attend these sessions.

Nick Hart, CEO of the Data Coalition said in a statement that he was encouraged to see OMB incorporate this public feedback into the final draft of the Federal Data Strategy.

“Government has room for much improvement in managing and using data more effectively, and the Federal Data Strategy is a productive start,” Hart said. “In particular, the Data Coalition is pleased to see that a number of suggestions from industry and stakeholders outside government were thoughtfully incorporated into the final action plan.”

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