Federal government Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are bullish on the ability of a new government data law to spur IT modernization through improved data access, but they also see plenty of work that needs to be done before that vision becomes a reality.

The Push for Open Data

Catalyzing the hopes for wider and more useful applications for government data is an important recent development.

The OPEN (Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary) Government Data Act, which was signed into law in January, requires that all non-sensitive government data be made open and machine-readable by default.  It also requires that each agency develop and maintain a comprehensive data inventory, and that agencies designate a CDO who shall be responsible for lifecycle data management and other specified functions.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will issue policy guidance on implementation of the act within the next year.

The call to establish CDOs is reiterated in the Fourth U.S. Action Plan for Open Government, which was published by the U.S. Government in February.  That action plan also calls for publishing a “comprehensive Federal data strategy” that expands the use of data as a management tool.

CDOs See Big Opportunities…

Seven current Federal agency CDOs interviewed by MeriTalk in a new study, underwritten by Splunk, said the new OPEN Data Act should spur wider IT modernization efforts by yielding “relevant and practical data-centric outcomes,” and by tying different data sets together to create new insights to fuel innovation.

Among the biggest wins from those efforts should be improved citizen services, accelerated innovation, increased data-centric decision making, and greater accountability and transparency, the CDOs agreed.

…And Much Work to Do

But to get to those goals, much work needs to be accomplished.

High on the to-do list, the Federal CDOs said, are policies that address the data lifecycle, enterprise analytics that enable more data sharing, efforts to bridge the gaps between public and private data, and clear definitions around the CDO functions and lines of authority at agencies.  A host of new infrastructure will also be required including data ingestion, curation, and normalization tools, enterprise dashboards to track data sets, and solutions to automate governance decisions.

Beyond the nuts and bolts of dealing with data flows, longer-standing issues will also have to be dealt with including the persistence of internal data silos, the lack of data standardization and organization protocols, the shortage of skilled workers, and security and privacy concerns.

On the personnel front, CDOs themselves will need a better understanding of their roles, and more focus on them.  Of the CDOs surveyed by MeriTalk, more than half of them held multiple job titles in their agencies, and had been on the job less than one year.

“In the end, the real issues are usually – who has the authority, what are the legal issues, and how can we unlock the data silos,” one CDO said.

Help Is on the Way

While it’s sometimes easy for new policy initiatives to lose momentum as they compete with other important Federal government initiatives, the double-push for open data from Congress and the executive branch appears to be getting high-profile support.

Speaking recently in Washington, Federal CIO Suzette Kent said she was hopeful that guidance for the OPEN Government Data Act will be released by OMB within 30 days.  The guidance will include support for agencies that have yet to establish the role of CDO, definition of duties for the CDO position, and explanations of how the CDO works with agency CIOs, privacy officers, and evidence teams.

The OPEN Government Data Act and associated CDO research will be discussed in greater detail at the Splunk GovSummit 2019 event on Tuesday, May 7, at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.  To learn more about CDO perspectives on the new OPEN Government Data Act and view the full research summary, check out MeriTalk and Splunk’s latest infographic.

Read More About
More Topics
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.