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OMB Issues 11 Action Items for 2021 Data Strategy With 2 Months Left in the Year

The Office of Management and Budget issued a late release of the Federal Data Strategy 2021 Action Plan. With little more than two months left in the year, the list of mandatory action items focuses on building on progress with—or catching up to—the first Action Plan, issued in 2020.

The Federal Data Strategy was finalized in late December 2019 with the release of 20 specific deliverables for individual agencies and governmentwide bodies under the 2020 Action Plan, which included several deadlines under each action item, all due in calendar 2020. Some of those deadlines were pushed out as agencies moved to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting mass teleworking.

For the remainder of this year—and until a 2022 plan is released—agencies should continue to “prioritize foundational activities such as capacity assessments and basic governance and infrastructure building” outlined in the 2020 Action Plan, the strategy states.

“The increased flexibility for 2021 encourages agencies to tackle areas that best serve their mission—e.g., for some agencies it may be data governance, while for others it may be workforce development or data management and interoperability—and learn from each other throughout the process,” the strategy states.

The 2021 plan includes 11 actions for agencies—down from 20 items under the 2020 Action Plan, the first under the new strategy—mostly centered around cleaning up and improving upon outstanding action items from last year. The plan is broken down into six action plans for all agencies and five targeted toward specific agencies or interagency groups.

For everyone:

Gather and assess data identified for priority agency questions. An important part of the Federal Data Strategy and associated Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act are agency Learning Agendas, which outline the goals and processes for achieving data-centric decision-making. For 2021, “Agencies are encouraged to build upon their existing frameworks in assessing the quality of the data needed to answer Learning Agenda questions.”

Mature data governance. In 2020, agencies were tasked with setting up Data Governance Boards. Before 2021 closes out, “agencies should identify and document priority goals for their Data Governance Body to accomplish over each of the next three years.”

Data and infrastructure maturity. As part of the first Action Plan, agencies were asked to pick an operational maturity assessment model in order to rate the current state of data and related infrastructure. “In 2021, building on the prior year activities, agencies should use their data strategy and the outcomes of the operational maturity assessment in their strategic planning processes,” the strategy states. “They should analyze and document data asset and infrastructure requirements that support mission functions and the FDS.”

Increase staff data skills. OMB encouraged agencies to “fill immediate skills gaps by improving the data literacy of all employees, increasing professional development opportunities and planning to hire staff with the requisite data skills.” This work should build off ongoing data literacy assessments of the agency workforce as a whole, as well as individual performance plans for employees.

Publish agency open data plans, “including the identification of priority data assets for open data plans.”

Improve data inventories. “For some small agencies, this may mean taking further steps to develop an inventory and ensure its inclusion on,” the strategy states. “For more mature agencies with an established inventory, [chief data officers] may focus on ensuring that their inventories provide a clear and comprehensive understanding of agency data assets.”

Specific agencies and interagency groups—like the Chief Data Officers Council and Chief Information Officers Council—have additional tasks meant to support the rest of government. While multiple agencies are being pulled in to some efforts, most center on work to be done by the CDO Council

Those actions focus on artificial intelligence and automation; governmentwide dashboards and infrastructure; data skills workforce development; interagency wildland fire fuels data management; and geospatial data practices.

These “foundational activities” cover the first few years of the long-term timeline that extends out to 2030. Those baseline practices will be included throughout, though the focus will begin shifting toward “enterprise activities”—standards, budgeting, coordination, etc.—by 2023.

Future plans will focus on “optimized activities”—including deploying self-service analytic tools—and eventually “data driven activities”—by which time agencies will be expected to use data for “proactive evidence-based decisions [and] automated data improvements.”

The latest Action Plan notes 2021 has been a transition year for the executive branch—one reason for releasing the plan after the fiscal year had ended and with little time before the end of the calendar year.

“Given the timing of the release of this 2021 Action Plan in the context of a transition year and with significant efforts underway across agencies on the administration’s immediate priorities, agencies may only begin working on toward [sic] the plan’s milestones before the end of calendar year 2021,” the forward states. “Nevertheless, this Action Plan establishes these aspirational milestones in order to encourage agencies to make steady progress on the plan’s actions and milestones.”

On the strategy website, officials noted the late release of the 2021 as one of the lessons learned, creating “an opportunity to consider how the timing of future Action Plans can better align with existing planning cycles.”

OMB learned several other lessons, as well, including:

  • Agencies’ diverse needs, resources and missions make a universal qualitative evaluation of milestone execution challenging.
  • Including statutory requirements in the action plan is helpful for comprehensive awareness and oversight and minimizes potentially duplicative data-related activities.
  • Coordination of actions undertaken by all federal data communities and stakeholders can be challenging, and it is unclear what benefit it adds to performance or knowledge sharing.
  • Some milestone dates were unachievable because of a lack of published guidance.
  • Milestone target dates should align with budget cycles.

source: NextGov