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An Update on Federal Policy Regarding Chief Data Officers and Data Governance: New OMB Memo

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued a recent memorandum that moves the federal government forward in embracing the importance of the “governance” of data.

On July 10, 2019, OMB issued M-19-23, a memorandum titled “Phase 1 Implementation of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018: Learning Agendas, Personnel, and Planning Guidance.” The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (the “Evidence Act”), enacted on January 14, 2019, mandates Federal evidence-building activities, open government data, and confidential information protection and statistical efficiency. It includes provisions for the appointment by each agency of a Chief Data Officer (CDO) and the establishment of a CDO council. (See our prior DBR on Data post, “The Emerging Importance of Chief Data Officers: Recent Legislation and Other Initiatives.”) The OMB memorandum announces a commitment to aligning related data and information policy guidance across government in four phases, the first of which is categorized as “Learning Agendas, Personnel and Planning.”

As set out in M-19-23, some of the key elements for implementation of Phase 1 consist of the following:

  • All agencies are required to create “Learning Agendas,” which identify and set priorities for evidence building at the agency in consultation with various stakeholders. The memorandum sets out a series of deadlines for accomplishing Learning Agendas through February 2022. A detailed Appendix to the memorandum provides further guidance on Learning Agendas.

  • All agencies are to have designated individuals in the positions of Chief Data Officer by July 13, 2019. CDOs shall have authority and responsibility for data governance and lifecycle data management at each agency. In addition, agencies covered under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-576; 31 U.S.C. § 901) shall be required to designate Evaluation Officers and Statistical Officials, and all agencies are encouraged to do so as well.

  • By September 30, 2019, the head of each agency is required to establish an agency Data Governance Body, chaired by the CDO, with participation from relevant senior-level staff in agency business units, data functions, and financial management. The Data Governance Body “will set and enforce priorities for managing data as a strategic asset to support the agency in meeting its mission and, importantly, answering the priority questions laid out in the agency Learning Agenda.” A detailed Appendix to the memorandum provides further guidance on constituting data governance and leadership.

  • Chief Data Officer Council will consist of all agency Chief Data Officers, the Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government, and the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The CDO Council will meet regularly to establish government-wide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination, and generation of data, and will promote various best practices as further set out in the memorandum.

  • Each agency is also to develop and maintain an Open Data Plan, as required by the Evidence Act, which describes the agency’s efforts to make government data open to the public. Each Open Data Plan is to be included in the agency’s Strategic Information Resources Management Plan. OMB will provide further guidance on Open Data Plans in the next phase of implementation of the Evidence Act.

As the new OMB memorandum makes clear, the role and functions of the CDO, and the emergence of a requirement for a designated Data Governance Body at each federal agency consisting of senior-level staff, reflects the growing maturity of the discipline of information governance generally. See DBR on Data, “Information Governance Gains Traction, Maturity, and Value Proposition: State of IG Report.

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About this Author

Jason Baron, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Washington DC, Litigation Attorney
Of Counsel

Jason R. Baron is an internationally recognized speaker and author on the preservation of electronic documents. Jason previously served as Director of Litigation for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and as trial lawyer and senior counsel at the DOJ. 

As NARA’s Director of Litigation, Jason led the administration’s efforts to provide responsive White House email and other records in the massive U.S. v. Philip Morris RICO lawsuit, and assisted in the defense of lawsuits filed against the Archivist of the United States under the Freedom of...

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