It was just a few months ago that several public and private sector data experts came together to discuss the emerging role of the Chief Data Officer. Gathering in Washington D.C. for Nextgov’s Rise of the Chief Data Officer event, the speakers and attendees discussed the role CDOs will play within agencies, what can be accomplished by these new leaders, and what the position will hold in the future. As it turned out, there were some pretty big obstacles holding back the rise of the CDO.
Micheline Casey, one of the most visible chief data officers within the federal government, and the keynote speaker of last summer’s Nextgov event, recently left her position at the U.S. Federal Reserve. In what is an eerily foreshadow of things to come, she explained the challenge CDOs face everyday with limited resources and a disjointed hierarchy. “The reality is it's really difficult to do this job. If you're going to do this job well you need resources. You need budget. You can't be a one-person show against an organization of 2,500 or 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 people scattered across the country dealing with that much inertia by yourself. That doesn't work."
As it turns out, Casey was not alone in fearing those challenges could derail progress, even though she was afforded the opportunity to build a large team within her office. Others were not so lucky. According to a report by Nextgov. Dave Dutton, who became the Energy Department’s first CDO in January, left the agency in June, barely six months into the job. Nextgov claims conflicts over resources and hierarchy were to blame. And the Commerce Department lost their deputy CDO in Lynn Overmann. Overmann helped stand up the agency’s data office last fall, but left her post to return to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy as an adviser on criminal justice.
Agencies are clearly feeling the pressure to turn the data deluge into manageable, meaningful insights, but they don’t seem ready to go all in on the resources and support the new office of CDO needs to succeed. Dividing the responsibilities up among various personal will certainly not solve the problem. Data needs a single champion that knows how to manage people and tools in a way that can efficiently and effectively uncover truth and meaning from that information.
The CDO is not a lone wolf; they won’t solve problems with limited resources like MacGyver. They need support and time to be successful. Agencies should be reminded of the goals and objectives of this still emerging role by taking a look at the following infographic.