White House considering pilot program to improve public interaction with federal data 

U.S. Chief Data Scientist Denice Ross said Tuesday that the White House is considering a pilot program to receive public suggestions on how to make federal data sets more accessible.

U.S. Chief Data Scientist Denice Ross said Tuesday that the White House is considering a pilot program to receive public suggestions on how to make federal data sets more accessible. Chris Jongkind/Getty Images

U.S. Chief Data Scientist Denice Ross said the pilot program would create a feedback loop between the public and federal agencies to make data sets more accessible and utilized.

The White House wants to make it easier to access and utilize federal data sets with a new pilot program aimed at improving engagement between government agencies and key stakeholders, the nation’s chief data scientist said on Tuesday. 

Denice Ross, who was appointed as U.S. chief data scientist earlier this month, said the White House was considering a pilot program after its Office of Science and Technology Policy received nearly 170 responses to a request for information on how to make federal data sets more accessible, equitable and accountable. 

The pilot would essentially take RFI responses to the agencies they address and determine a path forward – then provide a response to the public about the status of their recommendations. 

“We noticed many use cases for specific improvements to specific data sets in that body of 170 responses,” Ross said during a public virtual meeting on increasing federal data access and utility Tuesday. She noted that the pilot program would “take those use cases to the implicated agencies” and help them develop a response to the recommendations. 

In some cases, Ross said the White House would work with agencies to either accept the recommendation, develop modifications or reject the recommendation on the basis that they are not feasible to implement.

A federal equitable data working group established last year under executive order signed by President Joe Biden released a recent report that called on the federal government to create "increased representation among research community participants interested in generating equitable data," including new tools to "chart government's progress toward equitable outcomes."

Among its key recommendations, the working group proposed leveraging existing federal government infrastructure to expand protected access to underused data, build capacity for policymaking and program implementation and expand partnerships across government and the research community. 

Ross said that the pilot will create a critical feedback loop for agencies to respond to public recommendations received within the RFI, with the goal of “extracting specific recommendations from data practitioners” that make federal data sets more accessible and improve utilization. 

By taking recommendations to cited agencies then providing direct responses to data practitioners who contributed to the recommendations included in the pilot, Ross suggested that the White House could significantly improve accountability and transparency around federal data sets.

“We expect to learn a great deal about what levels of staffing and resourcing would be necessary to put in place evergreen feedback loops such as this, that might result in improved data sets,” she added.

The White House said it was hosting the public meeting this week while "seeking input about how data can be more transparent, useful and accessible," and that the feedback would help contribute to the development of the Open Government National Action Plan, which it described as "a set of public commitments the federal government is drafting with input from civil society to support a more equitable, transparent and accountable government."