PMA Updates Federal Data Strategy, Outlines Challenges, Future Goals

The Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal Action Plan to Leverage Data as Strategic Asset released June updates under the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) on June 20, which indicated movement in the Federal Data Strategy’s development, as well as strategies the CAP Goal team is taking to overcome data use and strategy challenges.

The CAP Goal Action Plan highlights that between January and June 2019, the Federal Data Strategy has progressed in establishing its principles and practices, as well as a draft of the Year 1 Action Plan, which will be finalized by September. More specifically, officials have investigated steps from government, academic, and private-sector bodies to help develop the Action Plan.

Meanwhile, the Data Incubator Project, which aims to gather and publicly share model use case examples of leveraging data strategically, is well underway. The project has published proof points in the Federal Data Strategy newsletter and explored opportunities to fund prototypes with Federal partners.

Overall, the update reported that over the past six months, it has made progress by preparing the third Federal Data Strategy Federal Forum, the second Federal Data Strategy Public Forum in partnership with Data Coalition, and the May 2019 calls for feedback at nine Federal stakeholder meetings and 10 public and industry gatherings.

The update also highlighted CAP goals across four high-level areas, each supported by policy, people, process, and platform as four drivers of change. The high-level areas include enterprise data governance; access, use, and augmentation, decision-making and accountability; and commercialization, innovation, and public use.

The document reviewed each of the area strategies, what problems officials have identified in those areas, and how the drivers of change will address the challenges.

Enterprise Data Governance

Enterprise data governance aims to set priorities in managing Federal data as strategic asset. This includes “establishing data policies, specifying roles and responsibilities for data privacy, security, and confidentiality protection, and monitoring compliance with standards and policies throughout the information lifecycle,” the update said.

PMA identified inconsistencies in this high-level area, specifically in the roles and responsibilities for data management, governance process in implementing government-wide standards, and policies and procedures for data management and use. Data management, the CAP Goal team said, lacks a framework to coordinate disparate Federal data initiatives, which have led to unclear, duplicative, and conflicting priorities and work.

To tackle these challenges, the CAP Goal team plans to clarify and update policies and procedures around data management and use, as well as investment policy in modern technologies. Along the lines of clarity, the team wants to make roles and responsibilities for data management within agencies more explicit, and it also wants to invest in staff expertise and capacity to help in policy.

As far as process and platform are concerned, the CAP Goal will establish priority data projects and develop a coordinated approach in managing its Federal stakeholder communities and external constituents, while also aiming to better coordinate existing governance bodies and the creation of new bodies.

Access, Use, and Augmentation

This area covers the development of policies and procedures to help stakeholders access and use data assets effectively through expanding the availability of public data.

However, the update noted that there are incomplete data inventories that lack common identifiers and data standards, which create obstacles in cross-agency data-sharing. There are also inconsistencies both in procedures for appropriately releasing and using Federal data assets and in privacy protection practices.

Furthermore, the update noted that limited workforce capacity and expertise in navigating data integration requirements and protecting confidential data is another challenge in the Federal sphere.

To overcome these obstacles, the CAP Goal team said that adopting policies that promote interoperability, data standardization, and use of consensus standards, specifications, metadata, and consistent formats will be key, as well as prioritizing data management in IT investment, best-practice disclosure reviews, and use of external data. All the while, policy should invest in data management and transformation skills.

Additionally, the team encourages the development of comprehensive data inventories and a Federal data management maturity model in the future, as well as the empowerment of existing organization to manage tools and applications to facilitate data integration.

Decision-Making and Accountability

The CAP Goal hopes to leverage data assets so that external and internal users can make decisions and maintain accountability for the Federal government. However, a limited understanding among policymakers about the value of data in making choices and a lack of coordination to realize high-priority data needs has been a roadblock in realizing this goal.

Furthermore, the team said that inconsistent policies for data-sharing across agencies and with external stakeholders and limited capacity and expertise in managing data and evaluating programs have been problematic.

Given the obstacles, the update notes that it should continue to develop and refine legal and acquisition mechanisms for secure data access and invest in high-priority data assets and analytical technologies to enhance data-based decision-making. Investing in data science, program evaluation, and analytical training is also key for PMA.

The report also said that team hopes to establish a data service program to facilitate secure data access and analysis capabilities.

Commercialization, Innovation, and Public Use

The CAP Goal team wants to empower external stakeholders to use Federal data assets in commercial innovation, research, education, and civic engagement.

But the update also said that a lack of attention to external customers’ data needs has created kinks in understanding how to best provide data for those users’ needs, and limited policy structures to provide data for commercialization and public use has made it technically difficult to deliver to external users.

Given the challenge, the team suggested that it should develop policy that would both encourage the need for public data use in data collection and management and minimize barriers to public data access and use. The team also wants liaisons across industry and research communities to advocate for agencies to release data.

The Action Plan also called for Federal collaboration with industry and research organizations to create priorities for data release, as well as programs to facilitate commercialization, civic engagement, and public uses for Federal data, including the release of less sensitive versions of confidential data assets.

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