Do Federal Bosses Speak Data? They Should.


It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes too much data can make decision-making more difficult.

The volume of the world’s data is growing exponentially, and if federal leaders aren’t smart about data, the next few years probably aren’t going to be very fun for your agency.

This point was made Thursday by General Services Administration Deputy Administrator Adam Neufeld, who explained GSA’s early efforts in collecting, storing, curating and sharing data to benefit its internal operations and the public.

“The only reason we spend time on data is to help the mission,” said Neufeld, who spoke at an event hosted by Nextgov. However, advances in technology have both expanded the art of what’s possible and been stifled by traditional government bureaucracies.

GSA has responded in kind by creating the Technology Transformation Service, which combines the bulk of its growing technical talent in three wings: 18F, the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

The sailing hasn’t been entirely smooth – 18F came recently under congressional scrutiny over its finances – but GSA’s leadership understands that agencies who fully grasp data and technology will be in a much position to meet their missions moving forward into the internet of things era.

“Do you have leaders who are literate in data?” Neufeld asked. “Are they comfortable in this world? What are your decision-makers’ degrees of freedom?”

Sometimes, Neufeld said, “it’s harder making decisions based on data.” It may sound counterintuitive, but data-based decisions “sometimes upset the status quo.”

And if your leaders aren’t savvy on data, don’t expect it to be easy.

Speaking at the same conference, Beth Flanagan, ICITE mission lead for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, explained the intelligence community’s rapid tech transformation occurred in large part because of the push from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The entire ICITE plan is centered on the intelligence community’s need to better access and share data, and involves a slew of shared services such as cloud computing, common desktop environments and networking services.

Without the push from IC leadership, Flanagan said it’s unlikely the data-centric effort would have evolved as rapidly as it has. Even with it, Flanagan said, there are still some resistant to change, but they’re fewer and farther between with each intelligence success under IC ITE.