Kristoffer Tripplaar

Data-Driven Government: So Close, Yet So Far Away

If agencies are to marry performance with data, they’ll have to invest in their people as well as technology.

Measuring performance in government is not new. For at least twenty years, since the initial Government Performance and Results Act was passed in 1993, using metrics to determine the impact of policies has been a federal priority. However, according to Office of Personnel Management Chief Operating Officer Angela Bailey and Vice-Chair of Government Transformation Initiative Steve Goodrich, there is still a long road ahead. Agencies have been better at collecting technical and operational data, but ‘moneyball’ government, wherein agencies use data to determine program performance and guide policy, remains largely elusive. To get there, Bailey and Goodrich suggested the federal government needs to focus on investing in both its technology and its workforce.

In terms of technology, government needs better data analysis tools and standardization. Agencies already collect vast amounts of data, but they often lack the tools needed to fully leverage it. As big data analytics become increasingly advanced, agencies are not allotted sufficient budgets to keep up. Because agencies collect data from various sources and in various formats, it is often unstandardized and therefore difficult to integrate and translate into useful information. The recently passed DATA Act helps address this issue by requiring agencies to standardize data collection and storage procedures, but obtaining higher quality data remains a significant challenge.

More fundamental than acquiring more advanced technology is fostering a data-friendly workforce. Bailey noted that federal employees are themselves becoming more interested in mining data for insights, but overall awareness of the value data analysis can bring agencies is lacking. Goodrich highlighted the need build data science into education and training programs for federal managers in particular to foster a data-friendly culture.

Collecting and analyzing data is not a panacea for federal agencies, but greater reliance on data-driven insights can help agencies more effectively achieve their missions. As Bailey described it, agencies do not need data to dictate policy, just to provide parameters for what works and what doesn’t.

For more from 2014 Excellence in Government, check out GBC’s EIG2014 recap series.


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