CDO Authorities and Responsibilities Outlined in OMB Memo to Implement the Evidence Act

Published: July 17, 2019

Big DataGovernment PerformancePolicy and Legislation

In part 1 of its instructions to agencies in implementing the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, OMB includes guidance that describes CDO authorities and responsibilities.

Passed in January 2019, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017 (herein, the Evidence Act) requires agencies to identify and build a plan around questions related to programs and missions to be supported by data. Within the Evidence Act, the Open Government Data Act requires transparent data sets be published and a Chief Data Officer (CDO) designated at each agency.

In response, OMB issued a memo to agencies describing how to implement the law’s requirements, proclaiming the Evidence Act as a “new paradigm by calling on agencies to significantly rethink how they currently plan and organize evidence building, data management, and data access functions to ensure an integrated and direct connection to data and evidence needs.”

The memo covers the first of four phases identified by OMB in implementing the legislation:

  • Phase 1: Learning Agendas, Personnel, and Planning (to be completed by July 13, 2019)
  • Phase 2: Open Data Access and Management (completed by July 13, 2019)
  • Phase 3: Data Access for Statistical Purposes (July 13, 2019 through January 14, 2020)
  • Phase 4: Program Evaluation (completed at the Evidence Act’s one year mark)

The memo proceeds to provide detail on each of the three areas within phase one:

Learning Agendas

Agencies are required to identify and set priorities for evidence building through constructed learning agendas. In consultation with stakeholders, agencies will seek questions that, when answered, will have the biggest impact on agency functions and performance.


Chief Data Officers

Highlighting the importance of a CDO, the memo states CDOs “enable data driven decision-making in a variety of ways, from providing and leveraging centralized agency analytics capacity to creating tools and platforms that enable self-service across their agencies and for the public.”

The Evidence Act does not require the CDO position to be within any particular organization within an agency or report to any particular official. Nonetheless, the memo strongly proclaims that CDO’s shall serve in a central leadership position within an agency with “visibility into relevant agency operations, and be positioned highly enough to regularly engage with other agency leadership, including the head of the agency.”

Authority and responsibilities of the CDO are centered on data governance and lifecycle data management. Governance responsibilities range from supporting the agency’s learning agenda to coordination of data access and management activities, and engaging agency employees, the public and contractors in collaborative approaches in using public data assets. Moreover, the CDO is to work with the CIO and review the impact of the agency’s infrastructure on data asset accessibilities and work to improve and reduce any barriers to accessibility.

Lifecycle data management responsibilities include ensuring the agency follows data management best practices, and carrying out information resources management planning, as well as developing the agency’s open data plan.

In addition to the CDO, newly designated positions by the Evidence Act include an Evaluation Officer and Statistical Official. The Evaluation Officer will preside over the review of the learning agenda’s activities while the Statistical Official will advise on statistical policy, techniques and procedures. These new positions were required to be in place at each CFO-Act agency by July 13, 2019 and names submitted to OMB no later than August 2, 2019.

The CDO, Evaluation Officer and Statistical Official must also come together to form a Data Government Body, in addition to other senior officials from program areas, no later than September 30, 2019. According to the memo, the purpose of the body is to “set and enforce priorities for managing data as a strategic asset to support the agency in meeting its mission and, importantly, answering the priority questions laid out in the agency Learning Agenda.”

Each of the three positions is also required to participate in government-wide councils as a forum to exchange information and ideas among other agencies. Most notably, the Chief Data Officer Council will “establish government-wide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination, and generation of data; promote and encourage data sharing agreements between agencies; identify ways in which agencies can improve upon the production of evidence for use in policymaking; consult with the public and engage with private users of Government data and other stakeholders on how to improve access to data assets of the Federal Government; and identify and evaluate new technology solutions for improving the collection and use of data.”


The memo wraps up with requiring agencies to create plans that promote better use and management of data, including an annual evaluation plan, annual performance plan and capacity assessment. Additionally, agencies must develop open data plans to describe efforts in making government data open to the public.