USDA unveils new data strategy

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The Department of Agriculture’s new guidance builds on previous agency plans, and looks to improve data sharing and incorporate artificial intelligence into analytics operations.

Transparency and accountability are two guiding principles that form the core of the Department of Agriculture’s new data strategy, the blueprint for handling sensitive data within the agency from 2024 to 2026.  

Launched on Thursday, the data strategy previews the agency’s data management plan moving into the next two years, as modernization remains a federal agency imperative. 

Building on the 2021-2023 iteration of the strategy, the new version includes changes to allow for more advanced data analytics capabilities, clear governance structures and data-driven transparency within agency operations.

“We’ve made notable progress since the publication of the first USDA Data Strategy three years ago to be a data-driven and evidence-based organization,” Chris Alvares, the chief data officer at USDA, said in a statement. “Data enables us to measure USDA’s progress, assess the impact of our initiatives and course-correct when needed. It ensures our actions are rooted in evidence and guided by the best interests of those we serve.”

The new strategy contains five areas of focus: data governance and leadership, data and analytics workforce, common data and analytics, open data architecture, and purposeful analytics.

Modernizing select USDA data operations and upskilling the existing workforce are common themes across the five pillars. Cost efficiency is also a priority as the agency converts to a more advanced digital workspace, particularly for its third goal of implementing a shared data architecture. 

Leveraging automated and machine learning technology is also part of the 2024-2026 data plan, with priority placed on the ethical and responsible usage of AI systems to improve data analytics.

The agency also aims to marry data transparency with more public-government collaboration through improvements and public access to USDA data via new dashboards and resources.

“Externally, increasing public access to USDA’s data will help promote transparency and accountability, ensure organizations and researchers have the data they need to make informed decisions, and spur research innovation and collaboration between USDA and the public that will further our mission,” the plan states.

The plan also describes the addition of a monitoring system to USDA operations to “drive accountability” and ensure agency goals are met. 

“The updated Data Strategy builds on those successes so that USDA can continue supporting the American public,” the strategy concludes. “In the coming months, USDA will translate these goals and objectives into an implementation plan and roadmap.”