First Look

USDA Chief Data Officer Ted Kaouk moving to OPM in October

Ted Kaouk, the Agriculture Department’s chief data officer and chairman of the Federal CDO Council, is moving to the Office of Personnel Management.

Kaouk will join OPM in October as its CDO, as well as its deputy director for human capital data management and modernization, a USDA spokesman told Federal News Network.

USDA Deputy CDO Chris Alvarez will serve as acting chief data officer for the agency.

Kaouk played a leading role in establishing data analytics not just at USDA, but across the federal government as chairman of the CDO Council.

As council chairman, Kaouk led its 80 members meeting the goals of the Federal Data Strategy and the Evidence Act, which required agencies to name CDOs. The council held its first meeting in January 2020.

Kaouk became USDA’s CDO in September 2018, but held multiple positions through his decade-long tenure at the agency.

He started out as a project manager for the USDA Rural Development’s chief information officer, and later became the special assistant and program manager for strategic projects in the Rural Development Office of the Under Secretary.

Kaouk also served as chief of staff for the USDA Office of the CIO prior to becoming the USDA CDO.

As USDA CDO, Kaouk helped the agency stand up more than 500 dashboards across its mission areas, in order to give agency executives and employees better access to information.

USDA took an iterative, human-centered design approach to stand up these dashboards, bringing employees together with more than 30 agencies executives to brainstorm cross-cutting questions, and then standing up prototype dashboards to answer those questions.

The agency’s COVID-19 dashboard, for example, helped executives make key decisions about reopening agency facilities.

Dashboards also gave the Forest Service an integrated view of metrics on timber sales, while the Food and Nutrition Service used its data on food insecurity to inform the rollout of its Farmers to Families food box program.

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.

In an effort to fill data skills gaps across the federal government, the CDO Council worked with OPM and the U.S. Digital Service to launch a governmentwide data science hiring initiative in January.

Applicants went through a Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment (SMEQE) that gave data scientists already working at agencies a seat at the table vetting applications, rather than rely on candidates assessing themselves. OPM received more than 500 applications in less than 48 hours.

Under Kaouk’s leadership, the CDO Council also stood up a data-sharing working group, which is studying governmentwide use cases for data sharing, while also ensuring the data remains protected.

The council also stood up a COVID-19 working group that shared the Department of Health and Human Services’ pandemic data across government, and worked with the State Department to create a dashboard on international COVID cases.

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.

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