Interagency Sharing of Datasets Faces Snags, NSF CIO Says

The process of sharing datasets across Federal agencies is a complex one, and one Federal expert said today that pre-existing rules governing already-collected data can hinder interagency sharing opportunities.

When asked about the practicality of sharing datasets at the GovDATAx event today, Dorothy Aronson who is both CIO and CDO at the National Science Foundation, replied, “it is difficult.”

“When we collect data in the research agencies, we’ve set a whole bunch of rules around the data we’ve collected,” she said, adding that those rules can be a hurdle for subsequent sharing of data.

Aronson said data rules put in place by different agencies can make collaboration difficult. As an example, she said NSF is working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to see if there’s a way to hide certain identifiers in NIH data.

To make data sharing easier – and to deal with general skepticism among agencies about the process – Aronson suggested that agencies start building systems in a way that specifies if the data is shareable from the beginning, and lower the standards for data use by other agencies.

If data is “B-level data,” it should still be allowed for use as long as agencies qualify that it is “B-level,” she offered.  Aronson also advocated for teaching agency personnel to use data as it is, but said that can be difficult to do with people in the workforce who might see the need to strive for perfection every day.

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