4 Recommendations for a Strong Federal Data Strategy

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We can expand upon the recommended actions to ensure federal agencies leverage data to advance their missions.

In June, the Office of Management and Budget unveiled its draft Year-1 Federal Data Strategy Action Plan, intended to enhance how we leverage the value of federal data for mission and citizen services, nationally. 

The plan is strong and represents a big step in the right direction, but there are ways to expand upon the recommended actions to ensure federal agencies leverage data to advance their missions, manage data efficiently, and protect data from unethical or criminal abuse. Here are four recommendations to consider before the plan is finalized next month.

1. Establish a cross-office reference data standard working group within the first year. 

A cross-office reference data standard working group would improve the key identifiers and linkage data elements—such as federal agency/office organizational hierarchy, federal program codes including National Disaster Recovery program identifiers, and federal open standard for entity identification—that connect multiple data sets to address key agency questions and meet stakeholder needs. Data would be better aggregated across multiple business lines, whether financial management, human resources or procurement, and could be tagged with codes that would enable program lifecycles to be tracked.

Collaborative oversight would be key to success. The Treasury Department, already experienced in implementing the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, would assume responsibility for creating the working group, while the OMB Data Council would govern the working group and coordinate across agencies to assure data is high-quality and facilitates use, access, sharing and interoperability. 

2. Develop an authoritative catalog for federal data standards to be published at DataStandards.gov. 

Building upon Action 8, “Pilot standard data catalogs for Data.gov,” we recommend creating a central catalog that would provide the authoritative platform for browsing cross-office data standards, unlocking the power that resides within federal data. 

This catalog will ensure all agencies are able to reference existing standards when making data decisions instead of defaulting to creating new ones, thereby, reducing inconsistency and ensuring all data is managed, protected and leveraged in an appropriate and efficient way. Statutory offices would collaborate to set cross-office data standards that support government-wide data services. The platform should be designed to be easy to adopt, with user-friendly features and navigation.

3. Pilot a data-sharing platform for financial management through FinancialManagement.Data.Gov. 

Data sharing is essential to ensure multiple agencies can leverage the same data sets to advance their individual agency missions. Piloting a data-sharing platform would not only streamline access to key financial management data—in everything from accounting and revenue collection to debt management, investment services and payments—but also champion its use and expedite the sharing of data.

The platform would be granted agency access, protect data and host data capabilities. The platform would also leverage agency data required by statute—such as the DATA Act—as well as existing data collected by Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service. If launched successfully in year one for the financial management data, we believe the architecture and platform would be extensible to other domains across the government.

4. Make certain agencies consider the matter of data transparency in selecting what data they need. 

Government data can be equally effective for all citizens only if transparency is scrupulously maintained. Making data open to the public empowers citizens to make decisions based on the data. Ensuring that it is updated regularly and is current ensures those decisions can be made on an ongoing basis. 

The government should consolidate the draft plan’s Action 15, “Identify data needs to answer key questions,” and Action 16, “Identify priority datasets for open data platforms,” to help guarantee that agencies consider data transparency at the time they select their data needs. As agencies inventory their data, they should at the same time determine if it should be made public for the public good. A mechanism to compile, share and prioritize cross-agency data needs would also be developed – an approach that could deliver new insights, promote sharing and inform data needs. 

As the Federal Data Strategy continues to take shape, input from across government and industry is important to ensure the approach is optimized for success. These four recommendations can help further advance OMB’s data goals and improve the way information is managed across agencies to better serve citizens today and in the future.

Dan Tucker is a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in digital strategy and transformation.