Agency CDOs say building a data-savvy workforce is top of mind

Network Big Data Transfer

Some say data is the government’s most important asset, while others maintain that it is people.

Federal chief data officers may see the answer as some combination of the two — the most important asset, to them, is people who know how to work with data.

On a panel at the Dell Technologies Forum on Thursday, two federal CDOs said building a data-savvy workforce is very much front of mind at their agencies.

“Making sure that your folks are ready is going to be a constant challenge for us,” Air Force CDO Eileen Vidrine said. “I always talk about the ‘squishy middle’ — we have these amazing airmen coming in, we have great leadership in the top that really has embraced this digital Air Force vision, but we have to make sure that our folks in the middle are really ready for it.”

“I agree 100%,” Department of Justice CDO and CIO Joe Klimavicz said. “In our data strategy, one of our mains goals there is the workforce. Making sure the workforce has the right skills for data science.”

This means both upskilling and making new, specific hires. “You can’t have too many data scientists on your staff,” Klimavicz added later.

But it’s not just about leadership, federal CIO Suzette Kent argued during her talk earlier in the day. Data literacy should be a core competency for federal employees.

“We have to scale our reskilling efforts,” Kent said, referencing the Federal Cyber Reskilling Academy, the second cohort of which she said will wrap up next week. “We’re going in the same direction with data,” she added.

It is a “privilege” for the federal government to collect and handle citizen data, she argued. “We have to treat it with that level of respect, intensity and focus.”