What do CDOs really want? Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget

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A new report also found that chief data officers are looking for more funding, more staff and clarity about how the CDO role intersects with agency CIO shops.

The Office of Management and Budget has yet to release guidance on open data access and management as required by Congress in the OPEN Government Data Act, which passed nearly four years ago as part of the Evidence Act.

Chief data officers say the lack of guidance is undermining implementation of the law, which is intended to improve the availability and transparency of government information by requiring agencies to publish open data by default and create comprehensive data inventories.

That's according to a new report based on a 2022 survey with 27 chief data officers and statistical officer respondents. The report, from the Data Foundation and consulting services company Guidehouse, offers a view of chief data officers across government.

Katy Rother, senior advisor for federal policy implementation at the Data Foundation who worked on the bipartisan Evidence Act as a staffer on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that OMB guidance is the "primary thing that we need," at a Tuesday event on the report.

"That guidance was there specifically for the reason that you would have duplication and inconsistent standards across agencies when that guidance isn't there, and that is what we are seeing now," said Rother.

Jason Duke, associate chief data officer at the Fish and Wildlife Service, said that "many federal bureaus or agencies also are spending countless hours and sizable amounts of funding doing the same things and dozens of different ways."

"CDOs should be able to focus our efforts in documenting, cataloging and archiving our data to enable rapid retrieval and obtaining insights to improve our operations for our missions. Yet most of us are creating duplicates of infrastructure with varying levels of guidance," he continued.

OMB did issue guidance on learning agendas and evaluation plans to implement Title I of the Evidence Act last year. 

Trump-era officials signaled that Title II implementation guidance that the report pushes OMB to release would come out in early 2021, according to reporting by Nextgov, but it has yet to materialize.

The guidance was delayed because of the pandemic and the transition to the Biden administration, according to a Dec. 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office that also recommended OMB put out the guidance. 

OMB staff told GAO for that report that while agencies were without guidance, OMB was helping them implement the law "by pointing them to existing policies and resources." They didn't give GAO a timeframe for issuing the guidance.

The new report recommends establishing a federal chief data officer in OMB. 

"The establishment of a single federal CDO at OMB would bolster this capability, the visibility of the CDO community, and provide a singular coordinator within the Executive Office of the President," the report states.

Fifty-eight percent of the foundation's poll respondents agreed that there should be a federal chief data officer as well.

In addition to more OMB support, the report says that chief data officers want more funding, more staff and clarity about how their work intersects with chief information officers. Right now, 60% of CDOs report up to a CIO, up from 15% in the 2021 survey.

OMB declined to comment for this story.