The Data Foundation – a Washington-based think tank that advocate using data to inform public policymaking – has issued a new report calling on Congress to create a Federal Chief Data Officer (CDO) position.

The report says the Federal CDO should be housed in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and function as a senior executive-level position.

Those recommendations stem from the foundation’s survey of Federal agency CDOs that finds three in five CDOs would like to see the Federal CDO position created. The CDOs survey cited the lack of guidance and support from OMB as one issue that could be improved by the appointment.

“The establishment of a single Federal CDO at OMB would bolster this capability, the visibility of the CDO community, and provide a singular coordinator within the Executive Office of the President to work alongside the component offices of the White House and other relevant councils in supporting the maturing and growing CDO community,” Data Foundation wrote in its report.

In addition to sounding off on the need for a Federal CDO, agency CDOs also raised concerns about resource allocations, work on implementing the 2021 Action Plan for CDOs, and the level of influence and collaboration they have within and outside of their agencies.

The overwhelming majority of CDOs (83 percent) said they don’t have adequate resources to fulfill their statutory responsibilities and support agency missions. While resources are lacking, the majority of CDOs (63 percent) said they have started or completed implementation of at least five of the six Priority Agency Action Items that were detailed in the 2021 Action Plan for CDOs.

On the positive side, 70 percent of CDOs view their role as being someone who influences their organization’s data culture, 77 percent say they collaborate with their CIO, and 85 percent say they are able to collaborate with officials in other organizations.

In response to these findings, the Data Foundation issued three recommendations, in addition to its recommendation to create a Federal CDO.

To address the resource gap, Congress should increase CDO funding flexibilities and provide more direct resources to CDOs. “CDOs need sustained, predictable, and adequate resources to implement data priorities,” the report says. “Congress should authorize CDOs to use additional funding flexibilities and set-aside authorities, as well as provide increased direct appropriations for CDOs to ensure they can succeed in their mission,” it says. In addition to Congress acting on the matter, the report suggests that OMB should also include those requests in the Fiscal Year 2024 President’s Budget Request to Congress.

The report also urges OMB to issue required guidance to CDOs to clarify responsibilities and enable full implementation of the OPEN Government Data Act. The Data Foundation notes that CDOs are operating under the general framework of the Evidence Act, the Federal Data Strategy, and their peer community of practice. However, the report says CDOs need clarifying guidance regarding the data governance function in government, open data and tiered access, and better-defined roles and recognition among senior leaders in their agencies. The report notes that this guidance was required by the OPEN Government Data Act, and Title II of the Evidence Act, but has not yet been issued by OMB. “Without this guidance agencies will apply implementation inconsistently,” the report says. “Issuing the guidance would greatly improve and accelerate implementation.”

The Data Foundation also believes Congress should remove the statutory sunset for the CDO Council, which is currently set to sunset in January of 2025. “The CDO Council has demonstrated its value to the CDO community and any sunset period should be removed in statute to ensure CDOs continue to collaborate and coordinate in the years ahead,” the Data Foundation said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.