The Data Briefing: Should U.S. Federal Employees Become Data Science Literate?

Sep 21, 2016

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Digital Service has researched ways to increase data science literacy among the UK public service. Data science literacy goes further than data literacy, in that civil servants will know how to apply data science concepts and methods in their everyday work. I thought it would be useful to share the UK Digital Service’s findings to help federal government employees develop their data science literacy.

Magnifying Glass and Multicolored Pie Chart

Before discussing how to increase the data science skills of federal employees, let’s discuss why. On March 30th of this year, President Obama signed the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act. According to the Office of Management and Budget: “The 15-member Commission is charged with examining all aspects of how to increase the availability and use of government data to build evidence and inform program design while protecting privacy and confidentiality of those data.”

The Commission has three charges:

  • “Determining how to integrate administrative and survey data and to make those data available to facilitate research, evaluation, analysis, and continuous improvement while protecting privacy and confidentiality;”
  • “Recommending how data infrastructure, database security, and statistical protocols should be modified to best fulfill the integration and increased availability of data as described above; recommending how best to incorporate rigorous evaluation into program design; and”
  • “Considering whether a Federal clearinghouse should be created for government survey and administrative data.”
  • Having a data science literate federal workforce will greatly aid in establishing a culture of evidence-based policy-making. The UK Digital Service recommends five ways to spread data science literacy. First, create data science driven apps to aid public employees in performing their daily work while familiarizing them with data science concepts. Second, share case studies (in-person or through videos/podcasts) of using data science in government projects. Third, have data scientists work with government employees on multidisciplinary project teams. Fourth, send government employees through intensive data science boot camps or weekly on-the-job training opportunities. And the fifth idea is to create a cross-government community of practice focused on data science literacy.

    For the government employee who wants to learn data science on their own, there are numerous free online resources. From Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to open source data analysis software to numerous free books on data science, there are resources for complete beginners and experienced data scientists. It may also be useful to invest in low-code/no-code development environments for federal employees to encourage citizen developers among the federal workforce and increase the number of data science apps. Evidence-based policymaking has the potential to transform government effectiveness and quality of service significantly. A data science literate workforce can only increase that positive transformation.Each week, The Data Briefing showcases the latest federal data news and trends. Visit this blog every week to learn how data is transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about government data, please contact me via email. Dr. William Brantley is the Training Administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intellectual Property Academy. You can find out more about his personal work in open data, analytics, and related topics at All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USPTO or GSA.