CDO Council looks to ‘blend data’ across agencies to maximize value

The Chief Data Officers Council, barely a year after holding its first meeting, is picking up steam.

Its first update to Congress shows the council stood up working groups last year focused on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and building data literacy in the federal workforce.

The COVID-19 working group partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to get agency access to pandemic data. It also partnered with the State Department to create a dashboard on international conditions, while other agencies, including the Agriculture Department, have stood up dashboards to determine when employees would return to the office safely.

But that’s just the start of USDA making use of its data platform. Ted Kaouk, USDA’s chief data officer and chairman of the CDO Council, said the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service is reviewing data on food insecurity to inform the rollout of its Farmers to Families food box program.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency is using the common data platform to make decisions about crop insurance, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service is using it to track the status of meat processing plants.

“We’re working to blend data across agencies for the first time to leverage the best available data,” Kaouk said Thursday at an innovation and digital transformation summit hosted by Alteryx.

The CDO Council has also stood up a data sharing working group, which is studying governmentwide use cases for data sharing, while also ensuring the data remains protected.

“That’s a real enabler for data-sharing, [when] people have the confidence that information is going to be protected. It’s one of those things where we want work on the barriers and trying to figure out how we can remove them in support of the best possible outcomes,” Kaouk said.

To achieve greater data sharing, the National Institutes of Health has launched a new data management sharing policy for NIH-funded research.

Susan Gregurick, NIH’s associate director for data science, said under this new policy, which goes into effect in March 2023, researchers applying for NIH grants will need to submit a data management and sharing plan with their grant application. Training and infrastructure grants are exempt.

“In that plan, we’d like you to articulate how you intend to share data and the metadata associated, where you intend to share it, and if you can’t share the data, what are the principles behind not being able to share the data. We certainly understand that there are certain situations in which data cannot readily be shared, and so we do want to protect sovereignty of data when that is appropriate,” Gregurick said.

While the CDO Council spent much of 2020 meeting the goals of the Federal Data Strategy, agencies have created their own data strategies. At USDA, Kaouk said the agency is focused on empowering its workforce.

USDA recently completed its first data skills assessment, which all agencies are expected to complete under the Evidence Act. The assessment asked supervisors about data analysts, data architects, data engineers and to determine skills gaps.

“At the council level, we’re capturing those use cases, because we want to know where people have been successful already, and that we can reuse and redeploy that,” Kaouk said.

Agencies are looking to fill those skills gaps through a combination of reskilling and recruiting.

Kaouk said qualified applicants are interested in public service, as demonstrated by a recent governmentwide data science hiring initiative resulting in the Office of Personnel Management receiving more than 500 applications in less than 48 hours.

As for retaining current employees, the General Services Administration launched a data skills catalog late last year highlighting use cases where agency employees have successfully completed data training.

The CDO Council also held a recent joint session with the Chief Evaluation Officers Council and the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy to discuss items where the groups can work together.

“At the federal level, we want to model those opportunities to collaborate on the broader goals and objective that we have, and then at individual agencies partnering in the same way with those officials to ensure that we’re delivering on the promise of the Evidence Act,” Kaouk said.

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