In order for federal initiatives to be successful, they must be rooted in data. And in order for data to be an agency priority, it starts with the right governance. Recognizing this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began recruiting for a chief data officer (CDO) at the end of March, roughly two months after the newly implemented Chief Data Officer Council — as part of the federal data strategy — met for the first time.
The CDC is no stranger to data-driven projects. One of the agency’s many initiatives includes the 500 Cities Project, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Representing a first-of-its kind data analysis, it reports on 27 chronic diseases through the use of city and census tract-level data for the 500 largest American cities.
And with myriad initiatives, like the 500 Cities Project and the work being done to collect, manage, and analyze data surrounding today’s public health crisis, the CDC needs data-specific governance not only to fill a seat in the Chief Data Officer Council, but to structure and utilize the agency’s expanding data collection. And most importantly, to ensure that the entire agency is data literate.
“Most agencies, like the CDC, are already implementing data-driven initiatives,” explained Andrew Churchill, vice president of federal sales for Qlik, a company specializing in data integration and analytics. “However, what many agencies lack is a culture of data literacy, starting with agency executives and trickling down to entry-level employees. Creating that culture is one of the most important responsibilities of a CDO.”
According to the job description, the role of the CDO called for strong leadership in advancing the agency’s public health data and IT modernization initiatives while working to provide counsel to the CDC’s chief information officer and other senior leaders, especially on how to eliminate data-related obstacles that have stopped the agency from realizing its data’s fullest potential. In particular, the incoming CDO must connect data and streamline data governance, so that valuable insights are revealed.
“This person needs to be a connector that can navigate policy barriers and overcome data sharing constraints to position the role of the agency as an enabler rather than a police officer,” explained Churchill in an interview with NextGov.com.
Many federal agencies are already utilizing data in their initiatives. However, not all are led with governance that prioritize data literacy throughout the entire agency. With a CDO in place, agencies like the CDC have leadership that not only values data for strategy but can break down barriers and teach the agency how to unleash, potentially valuable, siloed data. From there each agency can prioritize data-related needs such as identifying the right data analytics tools and platforms and continue fostering a culture of data for all employees.
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