Data Policy in a Pandemic

Published: May 19, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisBig DataCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicPolicy and Legislation

The COVID-19 pandemic realigns focus and target completion dates under the Federal Data Strategy’s 2020 Action Plan.

Key Takeaways:

  • The need for reliable, synthesized data is critical to the federal government’s tracking and response to the novel coronavirus.
  • Data policies such as the Federal Data Strategy and its 2020 Action Plan, as well as the Evidence Act, have prepared some agencies in the curation, use and interoperability of critical data related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Despite some progress in meeting milestones under the 2020 Action Plan, the COVID-19 pandemic extends future milestone due dates and directs agencies to prioritize coronavirus response datasets and projects.

Now, more than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for federal agencies to better manage, use and share data. The onset of the pandemic touted the utilization of big data resources in COVID research with the formation of the High Performance Consortium. Likewise, agencies such as HHS, State and GSA are working to publicize data to collaborate with the private sector on research initiatives like AI and supply chain logistics related to the pandemic, according to Federal CIO Suzette Kent. However, at the base of big data in the COVID-19 pandemic are the data policies providing agency direction in data exploitation and management.

Background on Recent Data Policies

The past year or so has seen large movements in data policy across the federal government. Last year, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) passed to guide agencies in data accessibility to support policymaking decisions. Notably, the Evidence Act required CFO Act agencies to instill Chief Data Officers (CDOs) at their organizations.

The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) called for the formation of the Federal Data Strategy to serve as a foundational guidance to agencies in data management, use and dissemination strategies. With philosophical pieces of the strategy finalized throughout 2018 and 2019, the finished product of the strategy’s core – the 2020 Action Plan – came in December 2019.   

The final 2020 Action Plan outlines 20 steps agencies must take individually, on a government-wide basis, and/or in a cross—agency collaboration setting to support implementation of the Federal Data Strategy (and parts of the Evidence Act) over the next decade. Each of the 20 action items includes a set of milestones accompanied by target completion dates. Action items range from launching a Federal CDO Council to conducting and publishing detailed data inventories, and identifying innovative agency data use cases.

Progress under the 2020 Action Plan

The strategy team reported on the 2020 Action Plan’s progress in the first quarter of 2020 (Jan – Mar). In the progress report, seven milestones are marked completed, three partially completed and two pending data collection.

Those milestones completed include:

Those partially completed include:

  • 26 agencies published information on their data governance body
  • GSA is awaiting an ATO for a metadata management tool on
  • 29 out of 36 agencies published 95,702 datasets

Announced Changes to Action Plan due to COVID-19 Pandemic

The current pandemic is leaving fewer and fewer stones unturned, including milestone completion dates under the 2020 Final Plan. A May 14 announcement from the Federal Data Strategy team describes the extension of several upcoming agency target dates and one shared solution target date. Moreover, the announcement calls on agencies to place the highest priority on COVID-19 response data in areas of the plan calling for the prioritization of data assets and projects.

Extended dates due to the pandemic include:

  • Milestone 2.2 - assigning staff to a Data Governance Body, extended from September 30, 2020 to October 31, 2020
  • Milestone 3.1 - operational maturity assessment model for data and data infrastructure extended, from June 30, 2020 to July 31, 2020
  • Milestone 4.1. – assessment of current staff data literacy and data skills, extended from June 30, 2020 to July 31, 2020
  • Milestone 6.2 – update comprehensive data inventory to conform to standard metadata, extended to 90 days after OMB/GSA issues standard metadata guidance (issue date: TBD)
  • Milestone 19.1 – completion of report, by the agencies that make up the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, on best practices for reporting output quality, extended from June 30, 2020 to July 31, 2020

Looking Ahead

According to the PMA’s site, the Federal Data Strategy has “enabled the government to better curate, use, and share operational data as agencies were asked to disperse funds for the economy, collaborate with industry to understand and fight an invisible enemy, gain visibility to a complex supply chain, and protect those who are most vulnerable in our populations.” Moving forward, the Federal Data Strategy team will continue to monitor the COVID’s impact on agencies, and collect data-related COVID-19 news to highlight the use of Federal Data Strategy best practices in response to the ongoing pandemic.