By Kristi Blokhin /

How EPA Could Be More Transparent With the Public

Think tank suggests more support for the newly established C-suite level position of chief data officer. 

A centralized data office could help the Environmental Protection Agency be more transparent with the public, a think tank report released Monday concluded. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center unveiled a report on how the EPA can make its scientific data more open and accessible by updating technology and management practices. The report is the second in a series and is released as the EPA is approaching its 50th anniversary. Among the options presented, the report said the EPA could create an Office of the Chief Data Officer to support the newly established C-suite level position mandated by the 2018 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act that was aimed at improving data management and use governmentwide. 

“Virtually every office of the EPA collects information relevant to decisions and operations,” said the report. “Managing and governing that trove of data is increasingly complex as the volume and complexity of information grows, as is ensuring that appropriate privacy protections are in place and that open data are encouraged when possible.”

Although EPA official Richard Allen became chief data officer in mid-2019, the report said the agency could better prioritize implementation of the 2018 act by giving the officer his “own unit and function in the agency, to specifically provide guidance and leadership on data quality and management issues that support mission delivery.” 

The prioritization of such an office “should ideally be signaled by the administrator,” the report said. The agency can request resources from the Office of Management and Budget and Congress as well as “reallocate some staffing from related roles and responsibilities to support initial development and growth of the chief data officer unit,” according to the report.

The Bipartisan Policy Center acknowledged that the creation of such an office could be challenging. The role of the chief data officer is still being defined, he is tasked with updating long-standing, established practices at the agency. There is little information on how funding should be allocated to support this role. 

Nevertheless, the creation of the office aligns with the report’s other considerations on how the EPA can improve its data management and transparency. This included: formation of an agency-wide governance board to enforce policies on data quality and access; creation of a unit to protect personal information in data and records; strengthening of data quality standards; publication of an open data plan; implementation of risk assessments on public dissemination of information; and establishment of a secure, tiered access system for confidential and/or sensitive information.

The report said that the options presented are meant to amplify the 2018 act as well as the Trump administration's Federal Data Strategy. Rooted in the president’s management agenda, the strategy aims to improve the collection and use of federal data. 

In addition to improving data management and transparency, the report addressed improving training and skills-building for employees, enhancing policy analysis, and bolstering public trust and communication at the agency.

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