Unleashing the Power of Data to Serve the American People

Memorandum: Unleashing the Power of Data to Serve the American People
To: The American People
From: Dr. DJ Patil, Deputy U.S. CTO for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist

….While there is a rich history of companies using data to their competitive advantage, the disproportionate beneficiaries of big data and data science have been Internet technologies like social media, search, and e-commerce. Yet transformative uses of data in other spheres are just around the corner. Precision medicine and other forms of smarter health care delivery, individualized education, and the “Internet of Things” (which refers to devices like cars or thermostats communicating with each other using embedded sensors linked through wired and wireless networks) are just a few of the ways in which innovative data science applications will transform our future.

The Obama administration has embraced the use of data to improve the operation of the U.S. government and the interactions that people have with it. On May 9, 2013, President Obama signed Executive Order 13642, which made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information. Over the past few years, the Administration has launched a number of Open Data Initiatives aimed at scaling up open data efforts across the government, helping make troves of valuable data — data that taxpayers have already paid for — easily accessible to anyone. In fact, I used data made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve numerical methods of weather forecasting as part of my doctoral work. So I know firsthand just how valuable this data can be — it helped get me through school!

Given the substantial benefits that responsibly and creatively deployed data can provide to us and our nation, it is essential that we work together to push the frontiers of data science. Given the importance this Administration has placed on data, along with the momentum that has been created, now is a unique time to establish a legacy of data supporting the public good. That is why, after a long time in the private sector, I am returning to the federal government as the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist.

Organizations are increasingly realizing that in order to maximize their benefit from data, they require dedicated leadership with the relevant skills. Many corporations, local governments, federal agencies, and others have already created such a role, which is usually called the Chief Data Officer (CDO) or the Chief Data Scientist (CDS). The role of an organization’s CDO or CDS is to help their organization acquire, process, and leverage data in a timely fashion to create efficiencies, iterate on and develop new products, and navigate the competitive landscape.

The Role of the First-Ever U.S. Chief Data Scientist

Similarly, my role as the U.S. CDS will be to responsibly source, process, and leverage data in a timely fashion to enable transparency, provide security, and foster innovation for the benefit of the American public, in order to maximize the nation’s return on its investment in data.

So what specifically am I here to do? As I start, I plan to focus on these four activities: