CDO Council gets tips on how to recruit talent, share data across agencies

The Chief Data Officers Council is getting some feedback on how to meet goals under the Federal Data Strategy and how its members can overcome common management challenges at their agencies.

The CDO Council received nearly 60 sets of comments in response to a request for information it issued a month ago. The council accepted public comments through Nov. 15.

The RFI asked the public for suggestions on a range of topics, including how best to upskill federal employees to learn data skills and share federal data between agencies while still upholding privacy.

Among the suggestions, the Federation of American Scientists urged the Office of Management and Budget to create an assistant director for information policy position that would oversee data work across OMB and the CDO Council.

Joshua Schoop, principal director for technology and innovation policy at the Federation of American Scientists, said the new position would also serve as OMB’s liaison for other Executive Office of the President appointees looking to access and work with OMB on data.

“Coordination between this role and the CDO Council would help CDOs better understand how agencies are using data inventories both internally and externally,” Schoop wrote.

Several commenters also highlighted an interagency campaign to hire data scientists as a successful model for bringing in-demand talent into government.

The hiring campaign, led by the CDO Council and Office of Personnel Management, received more than 500 applications in less than 48 hours.

Candidates went through a vetting process pioneered by USDS that brings subject matter experts early into the hiring process to conduct technical reviews of applicants’ qualifications. Through this Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment (SMEQA) process, the agencies identified about 100 qualified candidates.

CDO Council Ted Kaouk, speaking at the council’s first public meeting in October, said agencies hired at least 44 individuals who went through this initiative.

“While flexible hiring authorities are not the answer to staffing challenges, they can be leveraged to augment an agency’s data and evaluation teams and address critical areas where external expertise is needed,” Schoop wrote.

Meanwhile, a coalition of state CDOs is urging their federal colleagues to publish a catalog of high-value data sets. That catalog, they say, should include any legal limits on sharing that data.

Tyler Kleykamp, director of the  State Chief Data Officers Network at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, said that while the CDO role is relatively new in both state and federal government, they all face common challenges.

“COVID-19 has put unprecedented strain on states. They face significant challenges in collecting, integrating, and reporting data related to COVID, which are just a microcosm of the data issues state governments face every day,” Kleykamp wrote.

Kleykamp urged federal CDOs to prioritize plans to inventory and publish a catalog of high-value data sets. These inventories, he added, should determine whether the data is subject to federal laws or regulations that limit data-sharing.

“Finding federal data that exists outside of the Data.gov platform remains incredibly challenging. Beyond that, existing inventories are geared toward datasets and predominantly open datasets. States would benefit greatly from the existence of more detailed and comprehensive federal data inventories,” Kleykamp wrote.

Among their common challenges, federal CDOs in a recent survey led by the Data Foundation and Grant Thornton said more funding is needed to help increase staffing.

Data Foundation President Nick Hart urged Congress to give agency CDOs “sustained, predictable, and adequate resources to implement data priorities.”

“CDOs did not just request FTEs, but rather to add specific highly-skilled data scientists, data architects, and data engineers required to successfully carry out data governance and management activities,” Hart wrote.

To gain support, Hart urged CDOs to take “deliberate steps” to provide metrics, summaries and evaluations that highlight the impact and cost savings of their efforts.

“Even small wins are vital to building support. CDOs also benefit in helping to manage organizational change, encourage data literacy, and increase the influence of evidence-informed decision making,” Hart said.

Hart also recommended the CDO Council create a permanent data ethics working group to provide resources and guidance to agencies. Agencies, he added, should also partner with related professional associations to help train federal employees on data ethics.

“There is a need for clear, unified guidance from the CDO Council in regard to ethics and equity standards for data. Existing frameworks, such as the Federal Data Strategy ethics framework, provide guidance for developing a single standard going forward, but the CDO Council should collaborate with ethics-focused organizations outside of government to encourage the application of best practices and continuous improvement to those practices,” Hart wrote.

Duane Blackburn with the Mitre Corporation’s Center for Data-Driven Policy urged the CDO Council to create annual ethics and equity scorecards, similar to those used to track agency progress under the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

“Regular scorecards will help establish a baseline and identify potential biases and inequities in the analytics efforts and government services,” Blackburn said.

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