Pentagon racing to establish new chief data officer within CIO’s office

The Pentagon does not always respond with alacrity when Congress directs it to make changes. But barely a month after this year’s National Defense Authorization Act changed the location of DoD’s chief data officer in the department’s organizational chart, it has already started recruiting candidates to be the next CDO and drafting plans for how a revamped data office will operate.

That’s according to an undated memo Dana Deasy, the department’s chief information officer, sent to Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist. The memo, obtained by Federal News Network, points to an “urgent” need to strengthen DoD’s data governance and indicated Deasy will be forwarding a recommendation for who the department should hire as its next CDO soon.

Dana Deasy, DoD chief information officer

The 2020 NDAA gave the CIO purview over the chief data officer, a role that, until now, has fallen within the office of the Chief Management Officer. Michael Conlin became DoD’s first-ever CDO in 2018.

“To support the CDO, I am planning to establish a small [(approximately] 10 person) CDO Office within CIO, along with the required responsibilities, talent, and resources to be effective,” Deasy wrote to Norquist. “In addition to utilizing existing CIO resources, I am discussing with CMO the billets and funding assigned for these duties that should transition to CIO. I will work with the relevant components to obtain the necessary support including: accelerated hiring, additional funding, office space, and detailees. I will notify you if your involvement is needed.”

Deasy said he plans to have the CDO office fully-operational within the next 90 days.

However, the memo makes no mention of Conlin. Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman, did not directly respond to questions about whether he is still functioning as the department’s CDO and whether he is one of the candidates Deasy is considering.

“We have begun seeking qualified candidates to serve as the CDO based on direction from the FY20 NDAA Section 903,” he wrote in an email. “Following the interview process, the CIO will provide a recommendation to the secretary.”

Conlin’s LinkedIn bio continued to identify him as the department’s CDO as of Monday. He did not immediately respond to questions sent via the networking platform.

Michael Conlin, chief data officer, Defense Department
Michael Conlin, DoD chief data officer as of Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

The role of the chief data officer has been growing throughout the federal government for the last several years, and a year ago, Congress passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, requiring each agency to name a career federal employee as its CDO. As of last fall, all three military departments have also appointed a CDO of their own.

In the Pentagon’s case, the role is especially complicated by the fact that the department’s vast data holdings are spread across numerous IT systems, and are owned by a multitude of DoD organizations.

Congress tried to remedy that in the 2020 Defense bill by mandating that the DoD CDO “shall have access to all Department of Defense data, including data in connection with warfighting missions and back-office data.” And it give the CDO responsibility for “providing for the availability of common, usable, Defense-wide data sets.”

Deasy’s memo also indicates the CIO’s office will take charge of all of the department’s existing data governance bodies and create a new Data Governance Board. Peter Ranks, the deputy CIO for information enterprise, will lead the effort for the time being.

“My first priority for the CDO Office will be ensuring that DoD data policies, standards, and implementation are fully aligned to the needs for all-domain operations against a capable adversary,” he wrote. “We will also continue to support the reform activities and data analytics efforts led by CMO … Rapidly completing this transition will complement and accelerate our efforts to provide the warfighter with digital modernization via cloud, AI, C3 modernization, and cyber investments.”

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