The National Institutes of Health hasn’t made much headway on efforts to remedy its shortage of data science experts and needs to make a plan for doing so, a federal government watchdog said Thursday.
The agency, which is the medical research arm housed within the Department of Health and Human Services, hasn’t “fully implemented” practices for workforce planning that are established in federal guidance, such as identifying staffing gaps, the Government Accountability Office found.
A dearth of data science experts means the agency risks not having the workforce needed “to administer tens of billions of dollars in annual research grants,” the GAO said. Increased data collection and research advances will only add to the importance of data in the biomedical field, the report said.
The watchdog agency made eleven recommendations that were mostly aimed at NIH building a strategy to address the issue and monitor its progress. In a response to the report provided to the GAO, the agency said it agreed with nine of the recommendations and already implemented two others related to data management.
While NIH set a goal to enhance its data science workforce in a June 2018 Strategic Plan for Data Science, GAO said the agency’s work wasn’t linked to filling the gaps in its workforce because it hadn’t identified those gaps in the first place.
Efforts the agency made included launching a Data Fellows program and creating a “Data Science at NIH” webpage with related training resources and information, the GAO said.