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June 11, 2021

Update on Government-wide Data Scientist Hiring Pilot

By Dan Morgan, CDO Council Vice-Chair

Over the last several years, Federal agencies have been working to manage data as a strategic asset. Indeed, between 2018 and 2019, there was a flurry of activity and guidance focused on maturing how agencies manage and use data. Congress passed important legislation, including the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act of 2018 and the Geospatial Data Act. The Office of Management and Budget issued the first-ever Federal Data Strategy and Action Plan as well as key implementation guidance for agencies. Suddenly, every Federal agency had a Chief Data Officer and the Federal Chief Data Officer Council was formed.

Faced with the challenge of beginning to implement this guidance, agencies and Chief Data Officers had been trying a number of strategies to recruit and retain the kind of data science talent they would need to unleash the power of data to support their missions. Agencies were having varied levels of success. Thankfully, some talented folks at the U.S. Digital Service were working on a way to help agencies hire great talent: the Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment (SME-QA pronounced “smee-quah”) process.

The U.S. Digital Service pitched their idea to the Federal Chief Data Officer Council and an incredible partnership was formed. Over 16 agencies and agency components identified more than 62 positions they had available for data science talent. Those agencies assigned 23 subject matter experts to participate in a job analysis workshop, to develop competencies and build assessments that would be used to qualify candidates.

How’d it turn out? Government-wide results

The announcement went live on January 11, 2021 and received over 500 applicants in just 48 hours. Subject matter experts and candidates participated in a rigorous qualification assessment process, which completed in March. In the end, just over 100 candidates were found qualified. The agencies that contributed to the SME-QA process are actively interviewing candidates and making offers. After just 2 months, 29 data scientists have accepted positions with the Federal government. This month, some of the applicants will begin joining their agencies.

But even more importantly: we have a surplus of qualified candidates. Agencies that didn’t get involved on the ground floor will now have a chance to hire amazing data science talent, and we’re incredibly hopeful about the prospects of this work. We look forward to welcoming all these qualified candidates into the Federal civil service and can’t wait to see what’s next!

If you want to learn more about this exciting hiring model, please visit SMEQA results page.

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