Federal Chief Data Officers (CDO) examined the processes, technologies, and strategies that should be in place to help agencies not just manage data but master and leverage it as a strategic asset, during AFCEA Bethesda’s Breakfast Webinar series on June 15.

Throughout 2020, agencies implemented Federal Data Strategy action plans focusing on data governance, infrastructure, and the workforce. During the webinar, CDOs from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) share updates on their agency’s efforts.

FDA’s Data Strategy Plan 

FDA CDO Ram Iyer explained that the administration has a broad mandate, and to efficiently focus on each command, the FDA is fragmented into nine centers. While these nine centers effectively meet their mission priorities due to the structure of the congressional budget, individual silos are created. And this became apparent during the pandemic.

There is a cross dependency between the various centers in the FDA. For example, there may be adequate tracking from the ventilator supply chain. Still, you need the lung medication drug that goes with the ventilator supply, and the data for the drug and the ventilators are decided in two different centers. These individual silos affect the cross dependency among the various sectors, and it could become unhelpful for patients and public health officials.

“The overall value of data became quite apparent for us during this pandemic. It was clear from our structure and processes that when you want to share the data within the agency or outside of the agency, our processes were a little bit slower than we would like them to be,” said Iyer.

Therefore, the FDA’s CDO’s office data management strategy aims to act as connective tissue between all agency sectors. The plan is structured into three components. The first is to deliver value through driver projects to inform modernization. The second is to promote consistent and repeatable data practices across the FDA. And lastly, fostering a solid talent network at the FDA.

USDA’s Data Strategy Plan 

Over the last three years, USDA CDO Ted Kaouk explained that the agency has dramatically improved access to critical data and analytics products. In their recently published data strategy, the USDA will focus on how to scale and sustain its capabilities to fully embed data and analytics into how the organization operates every day, resulting in enhanced and more efficient service delivery for its customers.

USDA’s data strategy is comprised of four goals. Goal one is data governance and leadership; USDA will strengthen data governance and data leadership to enable a strategic approach to data and analytics development, infrastructure, and tools. Goal two is data and analytics workforce; USDA will create a robust and data-driven culture by recruiting, retaining, and retraining the workforce to acquire the needed data and analytics skillsets.

“We’ve stood up working groups on data skills. We released a 10 study case at agencies where they have implemented data skills training programs, everything from data stewardship to data science. And we’ve launched a government-wide hiring action for data scientists, and that’s exciting to see the number of agencies that are engaged in that,” said Kaouk.

Goal 3 is common data and analytics platform, USDA will develop and leverage technology, infrastructure, and analytics tools to enable shared access and use of data to achieve our mission and to drive innovation. Goal 4 is open data, USDA will support and promote effective data sharing to provide customers, stakeholders, and the public with deeper insights, value, and transparency.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.