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LEARN > Evidence Act Hub > Enabling Mission Success: A 2023 Survey of Federal Chief Data Officers

Enabling Mission Success: A 2023 Survey of Federal Chief Data Officers

Download Enabling Mission Success: A 2023 Survey of Federal Chief Data Officers

The Data Foundation, in collaboration with Deloitte, conducted the fourth annual Federal Chief Data Officers Survey in the fall of 2023. This survey provides inside perspectives on the evolving role of the Chief Data Officer since the Evidence Act, including factors enabling and hindering CDO missions.

Executive Summary

Federal Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are a critical component of building a strong data infrastructure that enables federal government agencies to leverage data as a strategic asset for enabling mission success. The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) provides a statutory framework and various requirements for federal agencies to improve data generation and use for decision-making – including the establishment of CDOs. 

To understand the emerging CDO role and the evolution of the CDO community needs, the Data Foundation conducts an annual survey of federal department-, agency-, and bureau-level CDOs and Statistical Officers. This report describes the findings from the fourth annual  of the Federal Chief Data Officers Survey

The results of the 2023 Federal CDO Survey reveal factors enabling and hindering CDO missions across federal agencies of various size, capacity, and mission areas. Findings were largely consistent with past surveys. Key insights include:

  • CDO functions are organized inconsistently  across agencies. Although one-third of CDOs report to CIOs, 37% wrote in a variety of other reporting positions, indicating inconsistent organizational structures. This may reflect unique agency needs but introduces challenges for collaboration, standards, and resources. 

  • There is an opportunity for a closer CDO-CIO relationship. Though most CDOs (56%) find their missions highly complementary, over half of CDOs reporting to CIOs find the reporting structure challenging. Last year, two-thirds of CDOs (66%) indicated the reporting structure between CDOs and CIOs was beneficial – double the amount of CDOs that found the relationship beneficial in 2023 (33%). Laws directing functions of data management to CIOs further cloud responsibilities. Clarifying CDO authorities and the relationship with CIOs can strengthen data and technology use.

  • The CDO role is still relatively new in many agencies, though CDOs have extensive federal experience. Over half of respondents’ (52%) organizations have only had a CDO role for three to five years, indicating the importance of the Evidence Act for establishing the formal data governance function in many agencies. However, 89% of CDOs reported having worked with the federal government over 10 years. This expertise related to federal processes lends itself well to a position that aims to improve management and government of data assets to improve decision-making. Continued support and guidance will be important for CDOs as the organizations’ data function matures.

  • Data governance and strategy are central to the CDO mission. Top priorities include implementing data strategies (28%), enabling data-driven decisions (21%), and improving data infrastructure (20%). Progress has been made related to data culture, governance, and analytics, but data maturity remains relatively low. Guidance and clear authorities can help CDOs achieve mission success and build maturity.

  • There CDO role is expanding to include emerging technologies. Over half of CDOs are already using basic or advanced AI (55%), and almost all CDOs are considering adopting AI in their organization in various capacities over the next year (95) – up from 45% having no AI responsibility in 2022. However, federal guidance related to AI implementation is unclear. Careful consideration of the CDO role with AI and clear guidance for ethical implementation is needed. As emerging technologies and AI become a larger part of agencies’ mission success, specifically as agencies respond to the October 2023 Executive Order directing all agencies to establish Chief AI Officers, further clarity of the CDO role with AI will be critical.

  • Resources, skills, and authority are persistent barriers. Key barriers across the function areas explored in the survey include limited budgets and staff as well as unclear CDO authorities. These challenges continue from previous years and must be addressed to enable CDO missions and realize the vision of the Evidence Act.

The following recommendations are based on the 2023 CDO Survey findings:

  1. Clarify CDO authorities and responsibilities to optimize organizational data and technology capabilities.

  2. Provide training, professional development, and change management support to build maturity of CDO roles and data governance functions across federal agencies.

  3. Equip CDOs with resources and staff needed to fully execute their mission of improving data infrastructure, governance, analytics, and strategic data use.

  4. Develop clear ethical guidelines and governance frameworks to support CDOs in responsibly adopting emerging technologies like AI in service of their public mission.

These recommendations continue emphasis on funding, authority, and clarity seen in previous surveys and build on the expanding role of the CDO related to emerging technology. Recommendations from last year included increasing CDO funding flexibility and providing more direct resources to CDOs; issuance of clarifying guidance on CDO responsibilities from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB); creation of a Federal CDO position at OMB; and removing the statutory sunset of the CDO Council. Progress on past recommendations vary – in 2023, CDOs indicated having more adequate resources and the CDO Council continued to provide support for the CDO community, while clarity of the CDO responsibilities decreased and calls for more guidance continued to grow.

The CDO community continues to show dedication and enthusiasm to generate, manage, and use data to improve government function and mission execution. CDOs are integral to building the data culture that enables a data-driven organization and broader data community across the government and require adequate support from Congress, the Executive Branch, and leaders across the federal government. In 2024, it will be imperative that CDOs, and their respective data management and governance activities, be treated as a core agency function and foundation for enabling mission success.

Download Enabling Mission Success: A 2023 Survey of Federal Chief Data Officers




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