The U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) 10x program is proud and excited to announce the graduation of the U.S. Data Federation project, the first to exit 10x after receiving all four phases of 10x investment. The project culminated in the relaunch of resources.data.gov, a government-wide repository of data resources called for by the Evidence Act and Federal Data Strategy. Along the way, it created new reusable tools for agencies, and seeded several new 10x projects. You can learn more about resources.data.gov by reading their most recent blog post.
The U.S. Data Federation
The U.S. Data Federation’s origins date back to 2016. Phil Ashlock, director of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS) Data & Analytics Portfolio, observed that although most government data efforts experienced similar challenges when collecting, sharing, and exchanging data, each new effort seemed to be improvising solutions to these problems. Process, tools, and compliance infrastructure built for one project weren’t immediately available—or even known—to people launching other projects. Lessons learned by one project team were rarely shared to other teams. In response, Phil applied for 10x funding to surface project examples, curate best practices, and create reusable tools, and by doing that, to increase the government’s ability to tackle the complex challenges involved in distributed data management, data interoperability, and data standards activities.
This pitch aligned clearly with 10x’s “good for government” requirement: shared resources and practices help data practitioners across government. It also identified, and sought to fill, a gap: no individual agency was responsible for addressing this issue. Using its agile, lean methodology, 10x granted a small amount of Phase 1 seed funding to explore the idea, and staffed a 10x Data Federation project team with technologists from 18F.
The project team began by investigating and validating the idea that reusable tooling could reduce duplicative efforts and accelerate common data processes. To test this idea, it created an initial proof-of-concept prototype for a reusable data validation tool. Over the course of the first three 10x phases, the team matured the prototype into a production-ready application called ReVal (Reusable Validation Library): an app that helps data practitioners rapidly validate their data against a set of custom rules.
ReVal is built with reusability and flexibility in mind, and can be used by nearly any agency for a variety of needs. Its most mature usage so far is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which is using ReVal to streamline a laborious data collection process for the National School Lunch & Breakfast program. According to FNS’s state partners, ReVal makes this time-consuming and inefficient process “tremendously, ridiculously easier.” Staffers who were previously bogged down fixing data errors can now spend that time on higher-value tasks.
Agency teams at the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Census Bureau also demonstrated that the tool was well-documented and usable enough to be implementable without significant staff support from the 10x Data Federation team—a key point in favor of its reusability and long-term sustainability.
Expanding the frame
As Phase 3 came to a close, the 10x project team sought to scale the work of the U.S. Data Federation. ReVal was clearly a useful tool, but it wasn’t easy to find; it lived in a GitHub project repository that many of the data practitioners who might want to use it had no reason to know existed. The 10x project team realized there were probably many resources like ReVal across the federal government—powerful, useful tools that address common needs, but are unknown and undiscoverable to much of their potential audience.
Meanwhile, the newly-passed Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Federal Data Strategy effort both called for the creation of a government-wide data resource repository. The 10x project team saw an opportunity to align its ongoing efforts with this mandate in support of shared best practices and reusable resources. The team successfully pitched for Phase 4 funding to support the research, design, and development of resources.data.gov. This final phase also included creating a strategy that would sustain the site and keep it active and relevant.
A repository for all agencies
The 10x project team began Phase 4 by conducting interviews with over 30 data practitioners, managers, and Chief Data Officers (CDOs) from 14 agencies, seeking to better understand audience needs and expectations. Several things became clear:
- Users want a broad range of content, extending beyond what is specifically named by the Evidence Act and the Federal Data Strategy—they want software tools, document templates, and contract language, and practical, in-the-moment supportive resources;
- In the absence of a centralized resource repository, agencies don’t know what resources already exist, and are forced to create their own solutions from scratch, leading to further fragmentation within the data management space;
- Many of these agency-created solutions, tools, and processes could probably be broadly useful—but as of yet, agencies haven’t had incentive, opportunity, or a platform to share them more widely, and have had no reason to build these tools with reusability in mind;
- Partners like the CDO Council, the Federal Data Strategy, communities of practice like the Data Exchange CoP, and agency CDO departments are eager to collaborate if given a means to do so.
This project clearly had an opportunity to do much more than fulfill a legislative compliance task: establishing resources.data.gov could support and amplify the efforts and products of groups and individual data managers and practitioners across government. It could be a central hub that gathers, publicizes, and shares high-quality data tools and resources from multiple agencies to multiple agency audiences—earning a greater return on investments already made by individual agencies.
As Phase 4 continued, the 10x team:
- discovered dozens of agency resources that could be promoted to a wider audience on resources.data.gov;
- created an initial taxonomy and information architecture for resources.data.gov to help site users easily navigate to the content they seek;
- integrated resources.data.gov’s GitHub repository with its CMS to allow future site authors to manage current resources and add new ones;
- co-created, with colleagues in TTS’s Data & Analytics Center of Excellence, 3 reusable templates to help agencies stand up their Chief Data Office and other data governance-related groups within their agency;
- began collaboration with the Federal Data Strategy, Data Exchange Community of Practice, and CDO Council, among others;
- outlined a section on resources.data.gov for the still-to-come data standards repository required by Federal Data Strategy’s Action 20;
- drafted content contribution guidelines, content publication governance and workflow recommendations, and potential funding mechanisms to guide and sustain resources.data.gov into the future.
- The 10x project team’s final action on the project was to turn future management of resources.data.gov over to the GSA TTS Solutions Data & Analytics Portfolio, where, along with Data.gov proper, it will be overseen by Phil Ashlock—coincidentally, returning it to the place where it started as an idea four years ago.
The 10x program is confident that resources.data.gov will continue to be nurtured in the Data & Analytics Portfolio and excited to see the repository continue to grow and deliver on its promise.
Thank you to all the 18F staff who worked on the various phases of the 10x Data Federation project: Julia Lindpaintner, Mike Gintz, Princess Ojiaku, James Tranovich, Amy Mok, Ethan Heppner, Mark Headd, Chris Goranson, Catherine Devlin, Joe Kryzstan, Tony Garvan.
To learn more about the 10x program and find out how to submit your good-for-government idea, visit 10x.gsa.gov.
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