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Federal Government Reflects on Past Year of Innovation, Offers New Year’s Resolution

As the book closes on 2018, nostalgic reflections about the past 12 months are everywhere – Facebook videos, website lists and yes, even government IT conferences.

At Thursday’s ATARC IT Modernization Summit, Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent put a bow and ribbon on the federal advancements in technology over the course of 2018, wrapping up what has been a period of change for the government technology community.     

“In reflection, 2018 was a year of action,” Kent said.

While 2018 was stamped by several watershed government programs – with successful rollouts of the Centers of Excellence and the Technology Modernization Fund, among other missions – 2019 appears to be the year of federal data.

“You also start seeing the theme about data – data-centric decision-making, data-centric focus on the next generation of solutions,” said Steve Rice, Principal Deputy CIO at the Homeland Security Department (DHS).

Kent and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will unveil the first draft of the Federal Data Strategy in 2019 – after rounds of public comment and the initial releases of 10 principles in June and 47 draft policies in October. When the Federal Data Strategy is released, it will be accompanied by a complete one-year action plan for implementation across agencies.

The strategy has received praise for standardization but criticism for unclarity, such as that the draft practices are too “unwieldy” to apply.

Nonetheless, the government has made tremendous progress on the Federal Data Strategy, as it expects to launch its next iteration in January before another round of public comments.

“This is probably the biggest area of expansion that we may have next year,” Margie Graves, Federal Deputy CIO at OMB, said.

A noted priority of the administration, data was listed as one of the “key drivers of transformation” within the President’s Management Agenda. Although there were no broad data analysis policies launched last year, the government debuted a data fellowship program that placed more than 40 data fellows throughout agencies.

Graves said that the 2019 Federal Data Strategy will contain security, commercial, innovation and regulation implications across all of government.

Meanwhile at the agency level, OMB has already worked to define how it will leverage data in 2019. The Data Incubator Project will test a number of use cases “ripe for testing.”

Agencies, industries and interest parties have already submitted hundreds of use cases, which are being evaluated as proof points. OMB will offer “seed money for some” and cosponsor prize challenges with the General Services Administration (GSA) to agencies that implement and optimize data practices as part of wide-ranging projects.

Although no one knows exactly what the practices and action steps contained in the finalized version of the Federal Data Strategy will hold, agencies can expect several sources of input. OMB, in crafting the Federal Data Strategy, has based its policy off of research academia and industry partners.

“I actually met with the statistical agencies across the federal government yesterday, talking about how we would create a research capability and an infrastructure that would support the constant exchange of statistical information,” Graves said. “We have a treasure trove of data within the federal government.”

At the root of data bottlenecking has been the lack of interagency communication. Graves hopes that the combination of formalized policies and external viewpoints will help government solve chronic and intractable problems.

“We would like to see more connection across the federal government between data sets that you wouldn’t necessarily think were connected but when you ask a holistic question,” Graves said, citing the opioid crisis as an example of disrupted communication between medical, law enforcement and scientific communities.

While data is one answer to common problems, Kent previewed a second breakthrough policy in 2019. As agencies continue to modernize, the federal government will install “guardrails” for automation adoption in government.

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Nya Jackson

There’s always going to be more technology and process improvements the federal government needs to make so it’s helpful to recap on past successes.