The Growth and Challenges of the Chief Data Officer Role and Agencies’ Data Maturity

A 2022 Survey of Federal CDOs

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) requires agency heads to designate a nonpolitical official as Chief Data Officer (CDO). This new capability in government specifically calls for officials who have qualifications and training in data governance, privacy, data collection, data management, data analysis, and data dissemination to perform tasks that build capacity, infrastructure, and the use of data to inform decision-making.

CDOs are instrumental in moving their agencies along the data maturity ladder, which culminates in the agency using data and engaging in evidence-based decision-making. The Data Foundation’s three annual surveys of federal CDOs show that while CDOs are making commendable progress implementing the Evidence Act and the Federal Data Strategy, there are understandable challenges to achieving the CDO mission that can be addressed with more support.

The Data Foundation 2022 CDO Survey, conducted in partnership with Guidehouse, adds additional context and new questions to better understand these challenges, along with themes related to equity and customer service. The Data Foundation combined its survey results this year with information from the CDO Council’s 2022 survey to develop a more complete view of the CDO office and to help shape recommendations.

Key Findings

  • A majority of CDOs are making progress on the 2021 Federal Data Strategy priority action items, but they need additional support. Progress on the Action items is steady with a majority (63%) of responding CDOs reporting that they had started or completed implementation of at least 5 of the 6 priority Agency Action Items that were detailed in the 2021 Action Plan for CDOs. However, last year’s survey showed a greater percentage of CDOs (75%) having started or completed 5 of the 6 items.
  • The typical CDO has significant federal experience and occupies a leadership position in their agencies. The CDO role is a senior level position and, as such, requires an extensive background in federal government. A vast majority of CDOs (92%) worked for the federal government for 5 or more years and 80% worked for the federal government for 10 or more years. CDOs also report long tenures with their organizations with 96% having more than one year of experience and half with 6 or more years of experience.
  • CDOs play a key role in their organization’s data culture. A majority (70%) very much or completely view their role as CDO as being someone who influences their organization’s data culture. CDOs are change agents, engaging with stakeholders across their organization to improve the quality and use of data.
  • CDOs play a key role in their organization’s customer service experience. This survey found that most CDOs view their role in improving data quality and making data accessible and usable as being critical to the customer service experience. CDOs use two primary methods of engagement: public presentations and making available public facing data products.
  • Challenges to CDOs’ success remain. CDOs have a clear understanding of their CDO mission and the challenges they face. Key priorities for success identified by CDOs include improved infrastructure and practices that support data governance, the need for more staff, improved data literacy, increased support from OMB with frequent check-ins and follow-ups, funding to support the CDO mission, and, finally, greater clarity about the CDO role in general and the different expectations of CDOs versus CIOs.
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