Biggest enemy of data sharing? Culture.

Government leaders face many challenges on a daily basis; budget cuts, evolving cyber-threats and political pressures. An even greater obstacle for many of these leaders, however, is culture.

At Monday’s Executive Leadership Conference, hosted by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, current and former agency leaders discussed how data is changing how agencies perform internally and externally. Of all the above mentioned, the panelists agreed the culture challenges surpass some of the more tangible issues leaders face.

“You’re trying to achieve cultural change in a time where it’s actually a really hard time to be a federal worker,” said Niall Brennan, director of data analytics at the Office of Information Products and Data Analytics at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Brennan, who has worked on data initiatives such as the Blue Button program at CMS, said despite culture barriers the government has been leveraging data in ways no one thought possible a few years ago. Big data, Brennan says, is a phrase getting thrown around too loosely nowadays, and far more important is “smart data” — data that is in real time.


He compared outdated data to having a car that tells people how fast they were going — 5 miles ago.

Ira Hobbs, who served seven years as deputy chief information officer at the Agriculture Department of Agriculture and as deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, said government needs a fundamental change.

“The real danger is the rest of the world is coming together on this, and we seem to be falling behind,” he said.

Hobbs stressed the importance of keeping up with the digital age and the generations that have grown up in it because they will be the future government workers.

“There’s going to be a mass exodus of the older generations working, and government will need the ability to replenish the workforce with folks who can bring new perspective,” Brennan said.


One audience member referred to the problem as the “cultural elephant in the room.”

And that’s why panel moderator Shawn Kingsberry said legislation that mandates data sharing is a good thing.

Kingsberry, CIO at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said laws enforcing data sharing are great for government because they force reluctant agencies to share their data and make it useful for other agencies.

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