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Agencies Improved Data Governance But GAO Finds Room for Improvement

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Commerce (Commerce), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have recently taken steps to establish data governance consistent with applicable statute and guidance. 

Federal decision makers need data of sufficient quality to assess whether federal programs achieve intended results. Effective data governance is a key component to ensure data quality.

The selected agencies established data governance frameworks to help ensure that their data assets are transparent, accessible, and of sufficient quality to support their agencies’ missions, improve operations, and provide information to the public. All four agencies designated Chief Data Officers (CDO) as required under the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act of 2018 (OPEN Government Data Act). As directed in the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan (2020 Action Plan), USDA, Commerce, and NSF established data governance bodies and published information about them on their websites. USDA and NSF have also established agency-wide data strategies. 

However, GAO also found that Commerce and HUD have not conducted an initial data maturity assessment, as required by September 20, 2020. All four agencies identified opportunities to increase staff data skills but three agencies did not perform an assessment of staff data literacy skills by July 31, 2020, as directed in the 2020 Action Plan.

USDA, Commerce, HUD, and NSF developed data quality plans for their spending data reported under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) that were largely consistent with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance. But GAO reports that Commerce and HUD did not include plans to ensure that information on award descriptions—defined as a description of the purpose of the award—is reported in plain English as required. 

The OPEN Government Data Act established a CDO Council to identify government-wide best practices for the use, dissemination, and generation of data. The Council adopted its charter in June 2020. GAO found the Council supports agency CDOs’ implementation of data governance and provides a forum for cross-agency collaboration to address issues of national importance. But the watchdog says the CDO Council could better realize these benefits by developing additional mechanisms to track progress toward established goals.

The OPEN Government Data Act also assigns the responsibility for implementing data governance to agency CDOs. Officials from academia, state and local governments, and industry told GAO that effectively implementing data governance requires a culture change that results in a shared understanding of the importance of using data as a strategic asset. Based on interviews with these officials and analysis of related documentation, GAO identified three key questions for federal CDOs to consider to effectively implement data governance:

  1. How can the CDO ensure data governance strategies answer the agency’s priority mission questions?
  2. What are the CDO’s key objectives with regard to data governance?
  3. How can the CDO communicate the value of data governance?

GAO is making a total of nine recommendations to the four selected agencies to address milestones in the 2020 Action Plan and to ensure their data quality plans are consistent with OMB guidance. GAO is also making one recommendation to the CDO Council to develop additional mechanisms for monitoring progress toward established goals. 

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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