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OPM Announces New ‘Data Scientist’ Job Title

Officials hope that an "unofficial" data science marker for federal jobs could help both with recruitment of new federal workers as well as improve evidence-based policymaking and data management efforts.

Officials at the Office of Personnel Management last week announced a new initiative to improve data management and implement evidence-based policy making across the federal government: establishing a “data scientist” job title for a variety of positions and employees.

In a June 27 memorandum to agency human resources directors, OPM Associate Director for Employee Services Mark Reinhold said agencies may now may add data science titles to a number of positions within their organizations, as part of a broader effort to establish the role of chief data officers and their support staff.

“Data scientist work is multifaceted and requires talent from interdisciplinary backgrounds,” Reinhold wrote. “Data scientists are defined as practitioners with sufficient knowledge in the areas of business needs, domain knowledge, analytical skills and software and systems engineering to manage the end-to-end data processes in the data life cycle.”

OPM has already found that the data science tag could apply to jobs within a number of existing federal job types, including epidemiology, actuarial sciences, operations research, statisticians and IT specialists. Although the federal government’s system for classifying jobs at agencies is locked in through federal law and regulations, Reinhold wrote that agencies can add “unofficial” titles to positions.

“The requirement to use official titles, however, does not preclude agencies from using any unofficial title they choose for positions,” he wrote. “Unofficial titles (such as those relating to specific agency organizations or programs) are appropriate and may be helpful for internal agency use or for recruiting purposes.”

Jobs that could be given a data science title involve data analysis, analytical applications, big data and algorithms, among other fields, Reinhold wrote.

OPM said officials hope that by working to find which jobs throughout the government deal with data science, the unofficial classification can both improve establishment of chief data officers and further the goals of the 2018 Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and the president’s management agenda. Reinhold wrote that since data science is a “rapidly changing” field, agencies should be flexible and continuously monitor how positions interact with data science.

“This guidance authorizes agencies to use a parenthetical of (Data Scientist) along with the occupational title for positions that perform data science work as a major portion of the job, and not as a collateral duty, for example Statistician (Data Science),” Reinhold wrote. “[OPM] will take an evidence based approach to determine if additional flexibilities are needed. OPM encourages Human Resources offices to collaborate with your [chief information officer] organizations and data scientist managers on job design and titling of data scientist positions.”