Looking Toward the Future: Expanding Federal Data Policy Guidance

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Jul 11, 2024

Sound data is recognized as the linchpin of useful AI, underscoring the crucial role data leaders play in supporting the government’s recent AI initiatives.

The 2020 Federal Data Strategy emerged from a 2018 Presidential Management Agenda calling for a government-wide approach to data use. A cross-agency team drafted the strategy and its initial action plan, incorporating feedback from government employees and the public through forums and requests for comments. The final 2020 Action Plan, released in December 2019, established a foundation for leveraging data as a strategic asset by outlining initial steps for agencies to improve data management, build capacity, and collaborate on data-driven initiatives.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been instrumental in driving the Federal Data Strategy since its inception. OMB played a key role in conceptualizing the strategy as part of the 2018 President’s Management Agenda. They then officially issued the Federal Data Strategy in June 2019, outlining the mission statement, principles, and practices for data governance across federal agencies. OMB also created the 2021 Federal Data Strategy Action Plan, similar to the 2020 version, which detailed specific steps for agencies to take in the first year. These action plans provided a roadmap for putting the strategy into practice.

Since that time, data programs across the federal government have significantly expanded and matured. There are many lessons learned and significant hurdles that programs can now document and share with the broader federal data community, to help strengthen agency data efforts. As programs continue grappling with the ever-evolving federal data landscape, new guidance rooted in the experiences of federal data programs up to this point could prove extraordinarily helpful. Moreover, there is an increasing recognition of the need to communicate out guidance based on lessons learned, ensuring that new challenges facing federal data programs are met with informed strategies and solutions.

In addition to the need to communicate guidance based on lessons learned, there are new challenges facing federal data programs as a result of rapidly changing technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been garnering significant attention in the federal space, highlighted by the White House Executive Order 14110 “Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence,” and subsequent guidance issued on March 28, 2024, by the OMB. The federal government is currently undertaking a monumental effort to close the gap between commercial industry AI advancements and federal adoption. Sound data is recognized as the linchpin of useful AI, underscoring the crucial role data leaders play in supporting the government’s recent AI initiatives.

New Centralized Data Guidance Would Strengthen All Agencies

Given significant advances and technological changes since the Federal Data Strategy was first unveiled and initial year action plans were developed, there is growing recognition that another round of centralized guidance for federal data leaders may be warranted. This guidance should draw upon lessons learned across agencies thus far and integrate more recent OMB guidance pertaining to the intersection of data and AI. Formalizing the trajectory for where data programs should evolve in the future holds high value, as it builds upon a solid strategic foundation and connects past efforts with newly acquired information and evolving technology.

The landscape of federal data management has evolved considerably since its inception, reflecting broader changes in technology and policy. Programs have not only expanded but have also matured in response to these dynamics, offering a wealth of insights and best practices that can benefit the entire federal data community. As agencies navigate the complexities of this ever-evolving environment, there is an increasing emphasis on sharing knowledge and addressing new challenges collaboratively. This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of individual programs but also strengthens the overall resilience and adaptability of federal data efforts.

Furthermore, the rise of AI presents both opportunities and challenges for federal data programs. The recent Executive Order and subsequent guidance underscore the government’s commitment to leveraging AI while ensuring its safe and effective use. This initiative places data at the forefront, emphasizing its critical role in the development and deployment of AI technologies across federal agencies. By aligning with these strategic priorities and integrating lessons learned from past experiences, federal data leaders can better position their programs to harness the full potential of AI in support of national priorities.

By incorporating lessons from the past and insights from recent policy developments, federal data leaders can establish a forward-looking framework that adapts to emerging technologies and evolving priorities.

Looking ahead, the call for updated guidance reflects a proactive stance toward future challenges and opportunities. By incorporating lessons from the past and insights from recent policy developments, federal data leaders can establish a forward-looking framework that adapts to emerging technologies and evolving priorities. This strategic approach not only enhances the agility and effectiveness of federal data programs but also fosters a collaborative environment where innovation thrives and public trust is maintained. As federal agencies continue to navigate the complexities of the data landscape, informed guidance rooted in experience and vision will be essential to achieving long-term success in an increasingly digital and interconnected world.

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