Among the agency work that GAO ties back to work from the council is a forthcoming HR data dashboard from the Office of Personnel Management.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office offers a state of play for the Chief Data Officer Council, or CDO Council, and its work in the nearly three years since its establishment.
Congress set up the council as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, meant to push government agencies to craft policies with evidence and data. That law also formally established the position of chief data officer and tasked the council with a series of statutory requirements to advance evidence use in federal policy.
“As the culture for using data and evidence continues to grow in government, CDOs need continued opportunities to learn about new resources, obtain actionable advice and guidance, and identify areas for continued operational improvements – all of which peer collaboration through the CDO Council supports,” said Nick Hart, president of the Data Foundation which conducted a survey of Federal CDOs in 2022.
As it was moving through Congress, the bill’s backers said that the law would force agencies to have evidence-based answers to the question of whether or not a program is working.
After standing up the council’s first full meeting in January 2020, the body now has 82 chief data officers from across government and its authorization is set to expire in Dec. 2024
Here is some of what GAO says that the council has done vis-a-vis Congress’ statutory to-do list.
Improving evidence production
Among the actions taken, GAO notes that the council released a data skills training program implementation toolkit in 2021, in response to Office of Management and Budget guidance in 2019 that agencies train staff on data.
On the agency level, the General Services Administration has new online training courses for a variety of needs and responsibilities, the report states.
The council also established a fellowship program to offer professional development for 20 feds with data-related jobs, offered a data-training workshop, worked with the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management to streamline data scientist hiring processes.
Government-wide best practices
The council is also charged with establishing government-wide best practices for data. It issued CDO Playbook, reported on agency data skills training programs, facilitated CDO discussions and made an award program for feds doing innovative data work.
Tech solutions for data
Another statutory requirement is for the council to evaluate tech solutions for data collection and use.
Last year, the council zeroed in on the idea of putting human resource data from agencies into dashboards focused on key metrics that agencies could access and use, recommending that one agency like OPM lead such an effort.
Now, OPM is planning to release such dashboards for agencies next summer, according to the report, after working with agencies to look at what data and analytical tools would be needed.
The council also tested the use of machine-learning tech in the analysis of public comments, according to the report.
On the issue of data-sharing across agencies, the council set up a working group in 2020 that issued a 2022 report with recommendations like using expedited processes to set up agreements between agencies.
The GAO report cites collaboration between the Commerce Department and the working group, as well as an effort to develop templates for data-sharing agreements in the department, something the CDO working group recommended.
Public access to government data
Finally, the council is charged with working with the public and stakeholders to improve access to federal data, something it issued a request for information to gather submissions on.
Overall, “in the relatively short period it has existed, the Council has undertaken a range of activities intended to strengthen federal evidence-building efforts,” the report says, noting that the council has done work on all statutory requirements. “These actions have informed efforts to enhance the development and use of evidence in decision-making at selected agencies.”
Who are CDOs reporting to?
The report also gives a top-down view of where CDOs are placed within their agencies throughout government – something that varies because the law didn't specify where they should be.
In the six agencies GAO reviewed for the report, two CDOs report the chief information officer, and others to leaders in offices with data management responsibilities like the Human Capital Data Management and Modernization Directorate at OPM.
None of the agencies reviewed or the council provided comments included in the report.