The Biden administration and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) need to take several big steps to reinvigorate action on the 2021 Federal Data Strategy (FDS) in order to realize the strategy’s goals, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) think tank argues in a new report.

The Federal Data Strategy was created in 2019 by the Trump administration as a framework of operational principles and best practices that aimed to create consistent data infrastructure and practices throughout the Federal government, so that the government can “fully leverage data as a strategic asset by supporting strong data governance and providing the protection and security that the American people, businesses, and partners deserve.”

The Trump administration issued an action plan for the strategy in 2020, and the Biden administration followed up with its own action plan in 2021.

Little Followup

Since those plans were issued, however, ITIF argues that the administration has been lagging on follow-through with the strategy, and failing to keep action plans updated.

“While federal agencies initially pursued activities such as developing governance structures, inventorying data, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic partly in response to the FDS, progress with the FDS has since stalled,” ITIF said.

“OMB has not provided updates on the progress of the 2021 Action Plan – the mechanism that specifies which activities federal agencies need to complete in support of the FDS – and has not published the annual Action Plans since the 2021 plan,” ITIF said. Absent more direction from OMB, “agencies are not prioritizing activities from the FDS but rather focusing on their own agency-level data strategies that are more aligned with their individual business outcomes,” the group said.

Moreover, “the FDS does not clearly link its overarching mission to ‘fully leverage the value of federal data’ with government-wide priorities, thereby limiting the strategy’s impact to improve operations, service delivery, and customer experience,” the report says. It also says that while agencies are getting advisory support on the strategy form the Federal Chief Data Officers Council, OMB’s Federal Data Policy Committee “has not engaged in any activity to advance the strategy.”

“Unfortunately, the FDS as originally conceived is inherently flawed, as it does not clearly connect its aspirational principles and practices for a mature data organization with government-wide or agency-level mission outcomes,” ITIF said.

“In its current format, the FDS and its latest Action Plans are too generic and high level for agency use, with many chief data officers (CDOs) instead relying on their own enterprise-level strategies that better align and support agency mission outcomes,” the group said. “Furthermore, the FDS has stalled, as the Biden administration has not shared a 2022 or 2023 Action Plan and has still not provided guidance on open data and standards required to implement the Evidence Act.”

“Given that the federal government’s fundamental purpose is to serve American citizens and residents – an effort that increasingly relies on digital services – effective use of data is not optional,” ITIF said. “While the FDS includes a comprehensive set of aspirational principles and practices for a mature data organization, these practices mean little if they are not integrated with government-wide and agency-level mission objectives and CDOs do not get enough guidance or support to affect change.”

Suggested Fixes

To breathe new life into the Federal Data Strategy and get the strategy “back on track,” ITIF offered a list of proposed fixes:

  • OMB should amend the FDS to clearly connect the strategy’s principles and practices with both government-wide priorities and agency-level mission outcomes, including changing its approach to the annual Action Plans;
  • OMB should establish a Federal CDO that will chair the Federal CDO Council and act as a critical executive in driving FDS implementation while providing support to agency CDOs;
  • The Federal CDO Council should publish annual scorecards or progress trackers based on the annual Action Plans;
  • OMB’s Federal Data Policy Committee (FDPC) should become fully realized as an oversight and governance body for the FDS and commit to providing critical guidance for open data and standards as soon as possible; and
  • Congress should provide greater funding access to agency CDOs to support delivering FDS actions and legislative requirements as well as increasing workforce and data skills development.
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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.