When over eighty of my fellow agency Chief Data Officers met for the first time in January 2020 at the first meeting of the Federal Chief Data Officer (CDO) Council, we did not imagine that our collective responsibilities for harnessing, sharing, and using data to inform decision-making would be put to the test quite so quickly or with such urgency. Many of us, all career officials, were newly appointed in our roles, or had taken on new responsibilities as required by the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act. Most CDOs were an office of one, grappling with how to implement the significant requirements of this new law as well as the Federal Data Strategy. The Strategy had been published just a month before and provided a roadmap for the next 10 years as well as an aggressive action plan for agencies to implement in 2020.
By April, though, the significant threats to the nation posed by the pandemic were clear, and agency demands for data and decision support tools were at an all-time high. In response, the CDO Council quickly established its very first working group focused on COVID-19 data. The working group set out to identify the key questions that agencies had as well as the data and tools needed to support agency response efforts. The working group found that data existed to answer Federal agency questions around public health, workforce safety, and continuity of operations. The working group also found, however, that Federal leaders and staff on the ground experienced significant challenges accessing that data, inhibiting their efforts to build dashboards and other tools needed for analysis and decision-making. To support this need, the working group collaborated across agency lines to ensure public health data held by the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services was more readily available for Federal agency use. The working group created and shared domestic and international COVID-19 analytics dashboards across Federal agencies, while developing guidance that supported consistent use of the data. The working group also captured valuable lessons learned and identified gaps that are informing future thinking on how best to enable decision-support on common or urgent issues across multiple Federal agencies.
It was this backdrop - a clear statutory mandate, a long-term strategic vision, and an urgent need – that set the stage as the CDO Council developed its vision: to create transformational change that improves the nation’s ability to leverage data as a strategic asset. Guiding our work toward that vision, we then established goals and objectives for the Council.
During our first year, we recognized that achieving our vision and goals relies on the CDO Council being a vibrant learning community that ensures CDOs have the resources and best practices to lead data-driven change. Taking that key lesson forward, we have accomplished quite a lot together already. We established five working groups (COVID-19, Operations, Data Skills, Data Sharing and Data Inventory) and two committees (Small Agency and CFO Act Agency). These working groups and committees are where our members collaborate, learn, and advance the Council’s vision. When we are not convened in these formal sessions, we are building one another up through discussion sessions that are open to Council members and our broader Federal community.
The Council has done other important foundational work. We launched our website here at CDO.gov, where you can find key updates and monitor our progress toward our goals. In May 2021, our Data Skills Working Group released our first official resource, the Data Skills Training Program Case Studies. In developing that resource, we are lifting up and learning from some of the bright spots in data skills training efforts across the Federal Government, giving all agencies a roadmap to use as they build their own programs.
The CDO Council also recognized that data policy and data work are naturally cross-functional. Agency data governance initiatives provide for coordination across a broad range of data topics. To support this opportunity, the CDO Council has initiated strategic partnerships and developed a collaboration framework with other Federal Councils that have an important stake in the work of the CDO Council and in the implementation of the Evidence Act, including:
- Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy (ICSP)
- Federal Chief Evaluation Officers Council
- Federal Privacy Council
- Federal CIO Council
- Federal Records Management Council (FRMC)
- Chief Financial Officers Council
- Chief Freedom of Information Act Officers Council
- Federal Geographic Data Committee
If we’ve learned anything in these early days of the CDO Council, it is this: our CDO community is filled with dedicated, creative, ethical, and entrepreneurial leaders whose first focus is service. Our members have shown that we are all about getting things done and pooling our collective knowledge to accelerate our work. We are excited by our partnerships that light the way ahead and help align our resources while we together improve the nation’s ability to leverage data as a strategic asset.