Get to Know a Chief Data Officer: Deputy CDO Lynn Overmann, Commerce

Nextgov sat down with five agency chief data officers across government. Read edited excerpts with Lynn Overmann, deputy chief data officer at the Commerce Department.

The emergence of chief data officers in government has accelerated in recent months. No fewer than six newly minted CDOs have been appointed to agency spots since July.

Nextgov sat down with five agency CDOs across government to discuss their to-do lists, how they’re approaching their roles and just how important the “chief” title really is. Below, read edited excerpts. 

Read more from the special report: "The Rise of the Chief Data Officer"

Lynn Overmann, deputy CDO at the Commerce Department (third from left) 

Image via Flickr user toni470

The CV

Overmann joined Commerce as the agency’s deputy CDO in mid-November after serving for more than a year in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy working under the U.S. chief technology officer.

Overmann was brought on as deputy to prepare the office and to aid in the search for a CDO -- a search that was still ongoing when Nextgov spoke with Overmann earlier this year*

"One of the reasons that I think they asked me to join the department as the deputy was because I have experience in the kind of internal navigation," she says. "Understanding how to work within the federal government and across agencies is something that I've learned over the past few years."

*Last week, Commerce announced it had selected Ian Kalin, formerly of the software firm Socrata, as its data chief.

The Org Chart

The CDO office has a direct link to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s office. So far, the office has just two staff members but there are plans to augment with employees on detail in the near term. The CDO reports to the deputy commerce secretary.

The To-List

Overmann says she's been on a listening tour across all the department’s bureaus, "recognizing that the people who are here at Commerce are really our data experts,” she says.

In the short term, Overmann says the CDO’s office has focused on hammering out a user-engagement strategy and playbook. "Not just who our current power users are that we do a great of interfacing with, but how is it that we can conceive of who else should be using our data and how can we most effectively reach them,” she says.

The Data

Whether you know it or not, you’re probably already a user of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s weather data -- which forms the backbone of the daily weather forecasts on the local news and your smartphone.

“There's a $5 billion weather industry that's grown up around taking NOAA's data and delivering it into the hands of consumers in the way that it's most effective for them,” Overmann says.

The Census Department’s data collection efforts are even enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

The CDO Title

Does every agency need a CDO? Maybe not, according to Overmann.

“What you really want to do is set people up for success." she says. "And agencies have different needs at different times. So, if they think that a CTO is really the way that they want to go, then that's probably the best route for them. That said, I think that there is not a single agency in the federal government that doesn't have a massive amount of data, and I think there are varying degrees of understanding as to the fact that they do have that data and how it is that they can unlock it and let it go."

Meet the Chief Data Officers

Read Q&As with all five CDOs profiled by Nextgov.

Read more from the Q&A with Niall Brennan

Read more from the Q&A with Dan Morgan

Read more from the Q&A with Brandon Pustejovsky

Read more from the Q&A with Scott Shoup