Data sharing still major challenge in government

Policy has gotten in the way of innovation. At least that’s what Paul Brubaker, director of planning and performance management in the Office of the Chief Management Office at the Defense Department, believes government has let happen.

Bajinder Paul, CIO at the Federal Trade Commission, moderated a panel at the Nov. 21 AFFIRM monthly speaker series on the framework of government and the role innovation and policy play in that.

Data, the panel agreed, will change the face of government completely — however, the pace of progress may not be exceptionally quick and may take an entire generation.

The problem is fundamentally cultural, panelists agreed. Sanjay Sardar gave the example of his work at the Federal Energy Regulation Commission.


“At regulatory agencies, we don’t share data with each other,” said Sardar, who serves as FERC CIO. “And that’s because culturally, we’re taught to be more in siloes.”

Another component to be considered in the data conversation is the reliability of the data itself.

“The move toward data-driven decision making is absolutely spot on,” Brubaker said. “Fundamentally, we’ve got to ask some questions — do we have the right data?”

In organizations such as federal departments that are so budget driven, data should be used to build business cases. Brubaker said until there is that cost visibility, agencies are missing basic data to make informed decisions.

Timothy McCrosson, leader of the Agency Oversight and Implementation team for EGov at the Office of Management and Budget, agreed saying while “data is king,” it’s more important to have the right data.


“Decisions are no longer based on gut instincts,” he said. “They’re based on a ‘show me the numbers’ approach.”

After the panel finished, the audience asked question after question about the acquisition process. What changes, the audience wanted to know, would the panelists make to the acquisition process?

Sardar and McCrosson argued for a more flexible pilot program for acquisition projects.

“Projects are often so big, you get a failure and it’s front page news,” McCrosson said. “If we had smaller projects, then we could tolerate failures here and there.”

Brubaker said a “solutions-based contract” system would be “profoundly transformational,” and Keith Trippie, executive director in the enterprise development office at the Department of Homeland Security believes in an e-commerce business model with a point-and-click feature.


Panelists echoed the shift cloud has triggered; spending less time hugging servers and more time on software, as Trippie put it.

Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which launched in 2009, has made major progress in government but is still in development. Sardar said the budget constraints CIOs face must be considered. The “cut and reinvest” idea put forward by OMB is effective, and cloud has enabled more of that. Panelists emphasized use of the cloud has allowed CIOs and agency leaders focus on more on mission and allocate the budget toward other initiatives.

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