The federal government is entering an era where data analysis is taking on even greater importance at the same time emerging technologies such as intelligent automation (IA) are enabling better and faster analysis work. Thus, it’s no surprise that the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) highlights leveraging data and analytics as a priority enabler this year.
The PMA—the guiding principles that will govern the administration’s approach to managing (and modernizing) the federal workforce—names data accountability and transparency as a key driver of digital transformation. In that light, the government wants to leverage data as a strategic asset, turning toward economic growth, federal government effectiveness, oversight and transparency. Therefore, according to the PMA, the federal government “needs a robust, integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve customers, and steward resources while respecting privacy and confidentiality.”
The document lays out an outline for a four-part Federal Data Strategy to be developed. To that end, leveraging data as a strategic asset is Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal #2 in the PMA.
But it’s not just there. The importance of analytics is also key to CAP Goal #6, which focuses on shifting time, effort and funding from burdensome requirements to high value work—something in which IA plays a role as well—to accomplish several outcomes.
Part of this goal is to be accomplished through reducing the regulatory burden on agencies—lowering the demand for low-level processing work required to document and demonstrate compliance—but a larger piece is to be solved through integrated IT and automation software.
Analytics analysis is already occurring with the DATA Act legislation. The act requires the federal government to adopt a single data structure for spending information along with a goal of bringing together all spending information—whether it be contract, loans or grants--into one unified data set that would be easily searchable by the public. Already, the public can download data from USASpending.gov and analyze spending by agency, organization and geography.
The Federal Data Strategy
To understand the administration’s goals for the use of data, we can analyze the four key strategies that together comprise the Federal Data Strategy, as detailed in the PMA:
Strategy 1: Enterprise Data Governance—Agencies are to establish priorities for managing government data as a strategic asset. This means that they will develop or update data policies, specify roles and responsibilities for data security and privacy protection, and monitor compliance throughout the information lifecycle. This calls for a systematic and consistent approach to data that serves to enhance its value.
Strategy 2: Access, Use and Augmentation—Agencies also must create policies and procedures to enable stakeholders to more effectively gain access to and use the information. These goals include making data available more quickly and in a broader array of useful formats, and releasing as much non-sensitive data as possible to the public. The strategy also encourages agencies to leverage new technologies and best practices to increase access to sensitive and classified information, to the extent possible while maintaining its protected status.
Strategy 3: Decision-Making and Accountability—This strategy calls on agencies to improve the use of data assets in decision-making and accountability. Dovetailing with the first two strategies, its intent is to provide high-quality and timely information, to facilitate external research on the effectiveness of federal programs, and to foster public accountability by providing timely spending information and related data.
Strategy 4: Commercialization, Innovation and Public Use—Agencies must ensure that external stakeholders can use federal government data assets in order to make that data more accessible and useful, such as through commercial ventures and third-party data sources. This piece of the strategy focuses on making data available for research, or to inspire and inform technological innovation in the private sector.
Analytics will play a key role in meeting all four pieces of the strategy. It can help pull out useful information quickly, providing data sets that are far more immediately useful to the various stakeholders who need them. The technology also can help detect security and privacy breaches or provide insight needed to make wise decisions.
Together, these four strategies make up the larger Federal Data Strategy and point to the administration’s attention on making the most of information available within federal agencies. Data is to be better organized, better provided and better disseminated than previously has been the case. Federal agencies are currently at differing points along the road of analytics maturity, but the time is now to accelerate.
If you are attending the Association of Government Accountants Professional Development Training conference in Orlando, Fla. July 22-25, you can learn more about the new emphasis on data governance and the role of analytics in meeting the goals during a presentation that I and other speakers will take part in our Digital Executive Session on Tuesday afternoon.