The Office of Management and Budget has released a 2021 action plan for Federal agencies to make progress on a list of goals under the Federal Data Strategy published in 2019, but given there are little more than two months to go in 2021, OMB characterized the year-end goals as “aspirational.”

In its release of the latest action plan, OMB reminded that the Federal Data Strategy “plans for agencies’ use of data for a variety of critical purposes: to generate evidence-based policy, to deliver on mission, to serve the public, and to steward resources,” while also emphasizing “the vital need to protect security, privacy, and confidentiality.”

Transition Year

Further, on the timing of the 2021 action plan for agencies, OMB said the plan recognizes that 2021 is a “transition year” for the executive branch.

“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 the Plan’s milestones before the end of calendar year 2021,” OMB said.

“Nevertheless, this Action Plan establishes these aspirational milestones in order to encourage agencies to make steady progress on the Plan’s actions and milestones. In doing so, agencies will enhance their ability to use data to achieve their missions and deliver to the American public,” OMB said.

Key Questions for Agencies

OMB said the 2021 Action Plan builds on lessons learned from the 2020 version, which emphasized “foundational activities” including capacity assessments, and basic governance and infrastructure building. For 2021, the agency said, Federal agencies should “focus on improving the effectiveness” of those governance, planning, and infrastructure activities. In doing so, OMB said agencies should focus on the following questions:

  • What further areas need a comprehensive assessment of existing capabilities?
  • How do agencies use these comprehensive assessments to produce meaningful improvements?
  • What foundational governance, planning, and infrastructure must be in place in the next 2 years to support adopting enterprise activities (standards, budgets, coordination) from the FDS maturity ladder in 2023?

Areas that agencies should grapple with next may differ, OMB said. “While the 2020 Action Plan established a comprehensive roadmap for the FDS, we recognize that agencies entered the 2020 Action Plan at different stages,” the agency said. “Many milestones allow for flexibility, given the diversity of agency missions and the maturity gauged during the execution of the 2020 Action Plan. In some cases, agencies should remain focused on producing quality assessments of their data infrastructure, skills, and assets. In other instances, agencies can move forward toward completing those foundational activities.”

“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,” OMB said.

2021 Task List

The short-list of 2021 actions include:

  • Agency chief data officers (CDO) and statistical officials (SO) should remain “actively involved” in their agency’s strategic planning activities and in the development of learning agendas set forth in 2018 policy guidance. “Agencies are encouraged to build upon their existing frameworks in assessing the quality of the data needed to answer Learning Agenda questions,” OMB said, adding, “After assessing the quality and security of the data assets to be used in pursuit of their Learning Agenda goals, CFO Act agencies should include these data assets in their comprehensive data inventories, and indicate within their inventory which Learning Agenda questions particular assets support.”
  • Agencies should continue to prioritize the data-governance planning efforts encouraged in the 2020 action plan, and “should identify and document priority goals for their Data Governance Body to accomplish over each of the next three years. The priority goals provide an overview of each agency’s data maturity and accomplishments during FY 2020, as well as the data maturity gaps the agency plans to address in fiscal years 2021, 2022, and 2023.”
  • Regarding data and infrastructure maturity, agencies should use their data strategy and the outcomes of the operational maturity assessment in their strategic planning processes, and . should analyze and document data asset and infrastructure requirements that support mission functions and the FDS.
  • Regarding increasing staff data skills, agencies should “prioritize completing assessments and performance plans, as directed in the 2020 Action Plan, and should consider following the best practices of agencies that have already successfully achieved these milestones. OMB also said agencies should begin work 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. OMB added it plans to issue a new Data Scientist job series later this year to help with hiring candidates with appropriate skill sets.
  • Regarding publishing agency open data plans, OMB said agencies “should continue activities from the 2020 Action Plan, including the identification of priority data assets for open data plans in accordance with the requirements of the Evidence Act and with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget.”
  • Regarding improving data inventories, OMB said agencies should “continue to take necessary steps to include all required data assets in their comprehensive data inventories and to update their inventories as applicable.”
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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.