Long-term success eludes federal CDOs, survey says

Significant financial and leadership barriers must be addressed in order for CDOs to fulfill their duties like data governance.
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Federal chief data officers generally know what’s expected of them by law, but a little more than half of those surveyed by the Data Foundation said they know how to succeed in their relatively new roles.

The Data Foundation identified all known federal CDOs from websites, social media, news reports and the government directory, and starting in January asked them to participate in a survey to which 26% responded.

Of those surveyed, 86% knew the expectations laid out for them by the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan, but only 54% had an idea of how to fulfill those goals.

“Several CDOs raised concerns about how to be successful using existing resources, suggesting it is necessary to improve the knowledge, skills, and resources available to CDOs in order to properly fulfill their duties,” reads the report. “Among surveyed CDOs, the top identified responsibility was to establish and implement data policies and data governance ”


Responding CDOs reported spending more than half their time collecting and preparing data for analysis, a challenge possibly solved by automating such processes. An additional 61% of respondents cited budget constraints as a “significant” barrier to their work and 50% said simply defining their role was a problem.

For those reasons the Data Foundation, in partnership with Grant Thornton Public Sector and Qlik, made their first recommendation that CDOs receive sustained resources to achieve their data priorities with adequate staff and analytics.

Among CDOs, 75% pointed to successful data governance efforts with 64% reporting improved data quality and 57% assessing staff capabilities and needs — the report’s second recommendation being to improve employee data literacy.

Of the respondents, 71% intend to continue advancing data inventories and 64% improve data quality this year, but the report recommends that agency leaders support the CDO as senior leadership. Additionally, the report recommends the nongovernment user community assist CDOs.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen federal CDOs looked to for real-time data and the monitoring of spending and response program output.


“Many traditional government data systems and reporting processes were designed for semi-annual or annual reports and analytics, yet in a global health crisis, decision-makers need information much faster – on a daily or even hourly basis,” reads the report. “This environment and context places additional pressures on new CDOs, while also creating opportunities for changing the perspective and the utility of data in government’s decision framework.”

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