The CDO Effect on Agencies

Published: October 17, 2019

Big DataDOJPolicy and Legislation

How one agency shows that the growing presence and responsibilities in the Evidence Act for CDOs may not be enough to make them influential throughout the federal space.

The passage of the OPEN Government Act within the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) requires federal departments to instill Chief Data Officers (CDOs) within their organizations. Since then, most of the 24 CFO Act agencies have named a CDO in some capacity, whether creating a separate position for it or adding the title to existing senior officials. Those agencies include Justice (CIO), NSF (CIO), OPM (CMO), HUD (Senior Advisor to CFO) and DHS (Executive Director of the Information Sharing and Services Office).

Many welcome the increasing presence of CDOs in the federal space. “The CDO is the grease and the data is the fuel,” according to Ron Bewtra, the chief technology officer at the Justice Department. Not only will CDOs help their individual enterprises think of data as an asset, they will be the core of data privacy, use, transparency and dissemination at agencies. Nonetheless, the largest role CDOs will play is people-oriented. CDOs have evolved from strictly technical experts to data brokerage leaders, coordinating with mission leaders, data owners and external stakeholders to break down barriers and use data to its fullest potential. According to Christina Yancey, Labor’s Acting Chief Evaluation Officer, regarding the role of CDOs and evaluations officers, “I think it’s important to emphasize the fact that we serve as brokers in lots of different spaces to support evidence-building, and one of those is to really narrow and determine the challenges with data access.”

The OMB memo released in July outlining implementation offers more insight on federal CDO roles and responsibilities:

  • Must be a non-political appointee
  • No requirement on the particular organization the CDO should be placed
  • No requirement to report to a particular official
  • Must be placed high enough in an agency to speak to leadership
  • Given the authority to have full visibility into agency operations
  • Lead an interagency Data Governance Group
  • Participate in the cross-agency CDO Council

Will all this be enough to empower CDOs to make a difference in government data operations? Some don’t think so.

According to an October 2019 report by the Data Foundation and Deloitte, requirements that the Evidence Act and OMB have put in place will not be enough to produce effective federal CDOs until these next steps are taken:

  1. OMB and Agency Senior Leaders Should Empower Chief Data Officers
  2. The CDO Council Should Identify and Replicate Leading Practices and Success Stories
  3. Agencies Should Establish Cross-agency Data Governance Processes to Work Across Silos
  4. Agencies and Congress Should Fully Resource Chief Data Officers in Key Agencies
  5. Agencies Should Support the Data Workforce with Trainings, Certifications, and Updated Job Descriptions

Could the report be right? Quite possibly.

Since the passage and implementation of data-centric laws and policies have primarily taken place this year, it may be too early to observe the impacts of CDOs across the federal government. It may also be too early to see the how and where CDOs are placed in agencies will affect agency data requirements and spending.  Historically, those agencies that have had CDOs for some time, particularly those officially part of the C-Suite, have seen a rise in data governance and effective life cycle management opportunities.  

One agency that is already making progress in the data space and has just implemented the CDO position this year is the Department of Justice. However, rather than create a separate position, DOJ leaders dual-hatted the agency’s CIO, Joseph Klimavicz, as its new CDO. According to Klimavicz at the Dell Technologies Forum in September 2019, the move made the most sense for the agency. DOJ wanted to take advantage of his data background and authorities to take a holistic approach to technology and data.

While Justice may plan to separate the CIO and CDO positions in the future, the current set up seems to be working. Deltek found that Justice spending on big data goods and services rose nearly 180% from $46M in FY 2016 to $128M in FY 2018. Likewise, obligations on cloud infrastructure that will influence data operations at the agency also dramatically increased from $69M in FY 2016 to $176M in FY 2018. Moreover, the agency released its first Data Strategy earlier in the year to lay the foundation for maximizing the use of DOJ’s data and using enhanced data capabilities to explore emerging technologies with the data. Klimavicz is also working to expand his data workforce with the hiring of DOJ’s fist Chief Data Scientist. Finally yet importantly, the department is planning to implement an enterprise data analytics blanket purchase agreement to acquire more analytical tools for Justice’s mounds of data.

Thus, the Justice example gives us a glimpse into how CDOs can be influencers in the federal government – if done the right way. DOJ already had a sound baseboard for data-centric priorities throughout the department before requirements of the Evidence Act were finalized. Once those requirements came about, the agency decided to place the CDO at the heart of its tech operations – with the CIO – to leverage the resources and authority of the office to expand its big data presence through a CDO title.

For further analysis on a CDO's impact on the federal market as well as additional trends and drivers impacting the big data space, refer to Deltek's Federal Big Data Market, 2019-2024 report. 

Get a free report summary of Federal Big Data Market, 2019-2024.