The government is at no loss for data. And, over the last decade, there has been a concerted effort to use that data more efficiently to improve decision making and service to the citizen. Chief Data Officers are in place across government to shepherd the changes in process and technology needed to achieve the goals set forth in the Federal Data Strategy.
Meeting the Plan to Plan
Department-level data strategies have been borne out of the federal guidance to mature data governance and infrastructure and publish those plans. In fact, the report "CDO Insights: 2021 Survey Results On the Maturation of Data Governance in U.S. Federal Agencies," found that 75 percent of respondents said they had started or completed five of the six action items named in the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan. The report found that constituting a data governance body (completed by 75%) was the least challenging action. Getting these bodies in place means that beyond department-level plans, some agencies are moving to making plans for critical subsets of data much like the State Department did for geospatial data.
Both of these documents define the specific roles and responsibilities of data officers and provide a framework for working with and securing data. Of course, each agency has unique requirements and missions, leaving the CDO to work out how to apply this guidance and standards to their organization.
Agencies are meeting these guidelines and integrating CDOs in different ways. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced a department-level CDO office to better integrate data into its operations and those of other agencies. The need for this level of coordination was underscored as DHS launched a department-wide COVID-19 vaccination campaign in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs health centers. DHS needed to identify, contact and manage responses from workers, which meant collecting and reconciling many different datasets from across the department.
Artificial Intelligence is being implemented across government to modernize and automate traditional manual processes. For many organizations, this means taking paper-based, tedious, error-prone tasks and turning them over to a machine for automated completion. Beyond using AI to hand off tasks best completed by machines -- those that are rote and repetitive -- agencies are also looking at ways to introduce the technology into already complex human-driven activities to make them even more effective and efficient.
Researchers at Dartmouth College's Department of Computer Science have taken a technique that proved valuable in WWII and applied AI to extend the usefulness of the method. A canary trap is a technique that plants different instances of false information in documents. If one of those documents is leaked, the canary will "sing," identifying the leaker. For example, in WWII British intelligence agents planted false documents on a corpse to trick Nazi Germany into preparing for an assault on Greece while the Allies invaded Sicily. The team at Dartmouth created a modern version, WE-FORGE, that plants different instances of false information in documents. The process is relatively simple when creating a small number of variations in a handful of documents, but to extend it to large scientific or technical documents, AI is essential. WE-FORGE uses natural language processing to generate multiple fake files that are believable yet incorrect.
Chief Data Officer (CDO) may be one of the newest C-suite designations, and it's quickly becoming one of the most important. With data-driven government becoming a mandate via the Federal Data Strategy and the Evidence Act, accountability around data management is essential. More than just a way to check a compliance box, having a CDO is a smart business decision in a world where data is critical to how government organizations interact with constituents. However, having a CDO is only a start. The CDO needs to be set up for success as well.
One report indicated that 60% of federal CDOs lack a clear understanding of their role. According to Gartner, a CDO is a senior executive who bears responsibility for enterprise-wide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development, and effective exploitation. This role makes sure data is secured appropriately for access, as well as privacy concerns, and sets the rules and processes for managing the data lifecycle. The CDO also develops solutions to use that data to create business value.
Even if the role is defined within an organization, CDOs report they lack budget authority or insight into what budget they have to complete their jobs. This mirrors what we have seen with another "young" position, CIOs. Chief Information Officers have seen their role elevated by its measurement in the FITARA scorecard, and with that tracking, are getting more budget authority and input. In addition to budget, CDOs also need the authority to set and enforce policies and processes across their organization and, in doing so, streamline communication among related groups. Continue reading →