HHS Outlines Planned Holistic Approach to Data Sharing

Published: January 23, 2020

Big DataHHSInformation Technology

In December, the Data Initiative Team within the Office of the CTO at HHS released a data sharing plan, “Leveraging Data for the Nation’s Health: A vision for inter-agency data sharing for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

The report describes HHS’ planned approach to data sharing, describing steps to achieve a data-sharing culture, a data-sharing process, a data-sharing structure, technologies for data sharing, and data-sharing regulations and privacy.   

The policy outlined in the report is driven and support by OMB policies and directives such as the Federal Data Strategy Action Plan, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, the PMA CAP Goal of Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset, and the American AI Initiative. The HHS plan, “outlines a vision for a fundamental transformation in the way HHS internally shares, analyzes, and derives new insights by leveraging data across HHS agencies to improve the delivery of its programs and further its mission of providing effective health and human services to the nation.”

HHS wants to build on past and current data-driven successes and innovations such as CDC’s evolution of using data to track infectious diseases, injuries, birth defects, chronic conditions, and illicit drug use, as well as CMS’ Open Payments program which promotes transparency by making the financial relationships among manufacturers, group purchasing organizations, and health care providers available to the public.

The data sharing plan builds on a report published by the same Data Initiative Team in September 2018, which identified the challenges to data sharing among HHS’ 29 agencies and offices, chief of which was the lack of a consistent, transparent and standardized framework for interagency data sharing.

HHS plans to establish a data-sharing culture through the development of a change management plan which will include a communications plan, a training plan, a programming plan and a strategic growth plan.

HHS’ planned data-sharing process will include promoting data discoverability, data requests, a metadata catalog, leveraging publicly available data, data use agreements, inter-agency agreements, data science and analysis toolsets, an analysis code management solution, working group reviews and policy reviews.

The HHS data sharing plan devotes nearly 30% of the report, 13 pages, to “Enabling Technologies for Data Sharing.” This section of the report describes necessary technical functional components, which include key transformational concepts, data use agreement attributes, data security attributes, and technical usability attributes. The proposed technical architecture will be built around five key components:

  • Data Use Authorization Management System
  • Metadata Catalog
  • Data Science and Analysis Toolset
  • Analysis Code Management Solution
  • Inter-agency Data Hub

The timeline for implementation of the data sharing plan stretches from Q4 FY 2019 to Q3 FY 2021, the next step of which is the formal establishment of a Data-Sharing Steering Committee.

HHS plans to use this data strategy to transition from the current “ad-hoc, decentralized, and point-to-point data-sharing practices to a well-defined, federated, hub-and-spoke data management model, inclusive of all HHS agencies.” Federal IT contractors can look for opportunities stemming from this effort in the areas of statistical tools, data visualization tools, analysis frameworks, ETL tools, data science and analysis tools, and design and integration services.