The Department of Defense (DoD) is working on a joint data strategy with the service branches within the department, said Michael Conlin, chief data officer at DoD.

Speaking at FCW’s Data & Analytics Summit today, Conlin explained that within the department, and in collaboration with CDOs at Army, Navy, and Air Force, his office is working on a data strategy to reach across the Pentagon.

“We have an active, lively collaboration. We talk on a biweekly basis, and we’re working on a joint data strategy for the department, as evidence of our active collaboration,” he said.

Conlin also took note of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEBPA), which offers some new authorities to CDOs and reinforces their mission.

“Under recent legislation, the term, ‘all data’ applies to the CDO. That’s going to be an interesting thing for us to sort out,” he said.

Under the current system, Conlin described his area of operations as the common enterprise data of the department, which shares some overlap with data from warfighting efforts, but excludes much of the component data. Depending on how FEBPA is implemented, the role of the CDO could expand within the Pentagon. However, Conlin noted that his office is waiting for guidance from the Office of Management and Budget before taking any steps in that direction.

Conlin described some of the successes of his office, noting that a detailed cost baseline for 75 percent of DoD’s budget exists. With visibility, the department is able to evaluate the sprawl of systems across DoD and support efforts to streamline.

“We can tell you how much money we’re spending, how many FTEs [full-time employee equivalents] worth of effort, we can break it down by processes step, by capability, by MAJCOM [major command], by location, and for financial management activities I can tell you how much IT they’re consuming, how much electricity the IT’s consuming, how much the real estate costs to support the IT in the data center – very detailed level of visibility,” he said.

While DoD may have a handle on some of its data – such as financial management data – data wrangling is still taking up quite a bit of time.

“The dirty secret of this world is that we spend 80 percent of our resources cleaning and standardizing the data to get it ready for analysis, and that’s all of the people in my job title,” Conlin said.

And challenges still exist for the department – and the Federal government at large – in finding the right talent for the job.

“This is probably something that takes up 45 or 50 percent of my time – the search for talent,” he noted. “We have a number of structural impediments that all government CDOs face – we don’t have the right position descriptions, we don’t have the right hiring authorities, there’s an emphasis on credentialism that is counterproductive in the space, and I’m leaning on my OMB colleagues every day to help me fix this,” he said.

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