Watchdog: Data Officer Council Has Made Progress on Policy Efforts, But Work Remains

Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

The Government Accountability Office found that the Council must follow its new detailed plan to fully meet statutory requirements.

The Government Accountability Office found that the Chief Data Officer Council has made good strides towards fulfilling its statutory requirements to further evidence-based policymaking, but needs to take additional measures—like following its own new fully formed plan and performance management activities and assessing its progress—in order to satisfy these requirements. 

Agencies need evidence—such as performance information, program evaluations and data— for their policymaking to see whether programs are having the intended results. The Chief Data Officer Council is supposed to help with this process. 

The Council—comprised of agency CDOs and other officials and under the Office of Management and Budget—was created to improve how the government collects and uses data, which agencies can expand upon. The Council was established under the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018—or the Evidence Act—whereby agencies must develop concrete data and information to support their policymaking. The Council is supposed to terminate by January 2025.

While early Council activities focused on its set up and organization, it is now working towards meeting the requirements outlined in the law. According to Thursday’s GAO report, the Council has taken at least one action related to its five requirements that detail how it should contribute to government efforts to create and use evidence. These requirements include:

  • “Establish governmentwide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination and generation of data.” 
  • “Promote and encourage data sharing agreements between agencies.”  
  • “Identify ways in which agencies can improve upon the production of evidence for use in policymaking.”
  • “Consult with the public and engage private users of government data and other stakeholders on how to improve access to federal data assets.”
  • “Identify and evaluate new technology solutions for improving the collection and use of data.”

In alignment with its first requirement, in April, the Council’s Data Inventory working group issued a report recommending practices to help agencies develop inventories of their data assets in a way that helps staff and the public have a clear, comprehensive understanding of the agency’s data assets and how they can request access. That working group has also identified data-sharing needs across the government and related challenges. For example, while data sharing agreements take a long time to complete and are often done one at a time, the working group recommended that agencies build different templates to draft these agreements. 

GAO added that, in June, it told the Council that it did not have fully formed plan and performance management activities to meet the statutory requirements. That deficiency could hinder the Council’s future progress because, thus far, the Council had been primarily working on what it deemed most important. However, the Council provided updated planning documents to GAO for 2022 and 2023 for how it would work towards its requirements. GAO stated that this will help the Council as it works on its goals and requirements and help determine if additional actions are required. 

GAO summarized sample work of agencies that use evidence to support their decision-making. 

The Council and OMB and six selected agencies had no substantive comments, according to GAO. The Energy and Treasury Departments gave technical comments, which GAO incorporated where appropriate.