Dozens of congressional staffers from key offices across Capitol Hill will receive Congressional Data Certificates after participating in the first-ever Data Skills for Congress program, FedScoop has learned.
The course was designed to educate congressional staff on federal data policy, how to better work with government data, and to modernize government data via new policy ideas.
Staff and policy aides from the offices of Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., among others, took part in the program run by the University of California at Berkeley and USAFacts, a nonprofit and nonpartisan civic initiative focused on making government data more accessible. The cohort was 60% Democrats, 20% Republicans and 20% nonpartisan, according to organizers.
Forty-two staffers enrolled in the program, which began in February and will conclude this month. The program included eight classroom sessions held remotely with a mix of live and recorded lectures and opportunities for in-person meetings in D.C.
“The Data Skills for Congress program, launched in 2023, equips member and professional staff with skills to use data in policy-making and constituent services, and write legislation to improve public data,” USAFacts said in a blog post last week.
“This free program isn’t just an education in data literacy in order to shape policies that ensure accurate, usable data flows within government. It’s a catalyst for congressional modernization and a rallying cry for greater data use across Congress,” the group added.
The Data Skills for Congress class is the first program of its kind approved by the House and Senate Ethics Committees and is intended to be a first step toward providing skills and context for data policy and practices.
Some members of Congress, like Kilmer, are pushing for greater data-driven decision-making in Congress through recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a commission on “evidence-based policymaking” within Congress to ensure policymaking is based more on federal data and facts rather than opinions. The bill would also push for the creation of a chief data office responsible for cultivating congressional data strategies.
The Data Skills for Congress organizers say they exceeded enrollment goals in this first program by 66% and 87% of participants reported they would recommend the program to their peers.
“I learned a lot and I think these are basic skills all congressional staff should have,” one congressional participant said, according to USAFacts.
The pilot program was focused on five key objectives related to U.S. open data topics:
- Educate participants on existing U.S. data policies through seminars led by data policy experts;
- Develop an understanding of open data challenges and technologies common in the U.S.;
- Build basic skills in data collection and visualization;
- Apply new open data knowledge to produce reports based on publicly available data or draft policy to improve government data; and
- Create relationships with other congressional staff who share an interest in open data and its use in Congress.