The Department of Defense Data Strategy: An Important Start

In early October 2020, the Department of Defense released its long-anticipated and much needed Data Strategy. This strategy is the latest installment under the Department’s Digital Modernization Strategy, which was released in July 2019, and focused on the key strategic pillars of enterprise cloud adoption, artificial intelligence, command, control, communications, cybersecurity, and IT reform.

The Data Strategy clearly articulates seven long-overdue goals for the Department pertaining to data management. Most notably, these goals include making data visible and accessible, so that decision makers and Service members can find and utilize common data sets in order to make informed decisions and achieve the best possible mission outcomes. Also key are the goals to make data understandable, linked, and interoperable. Of course, the best data has minimum value if it is not trusted and secured, which is why the Data Strategy also focuses on ensuring that data consumers can be confident in their data and that it is protected from all manner of cybersecurity threats.  

If all of this sounds very familiar, that’s because it is closely aligned with the Department’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) effort being led by the Air Force. Dave Spirk, Chief Data Officer for the Department, has said that the Data Strategy is a further enforcement of JADC2’s focus areas, which include joint warfighting, decision support, and data analytics. Additionally, Dr. Clark Cully, the Deputy Chief Data Officer recently noted that he is working to address gaps that are found within the JADC2 effort to more effectively connect the warfighter with data needed for mission success.   

In order to fully implement and sustain the Data Strategy’s lofty goals, Congress will need to be a key partner with the Department moving forward. Overall, effective data management amongst the Federal government does have the attention of Congress. With the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making Act of 2018, Congress directed each Agency to designate a nonpolitical appointee to the position of Chief Data Officer, responsible for data management, and working with the Agency Chief Information Officer to improve infrastructure and reduce barriers that inhibit data accessibility.

Specific to the Department of Defense, Congress has gone a step further. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, Congress realigned the Chief Data Officer position to report directly to the Chief Information Officer, directing that the Department develop a comprehensive strategy for moving applications to the cloud and generally using data to optimize IT and cybersecurity investments. Additionally, Congress explicitly directed that the Department make data usable and available across the enterprise. That brings us to the Data Strategy issued last October.

Moving forward, we can anticipate that Congress will continue to push the Federal government, and the Department of Defense in particular, towards more effective and efficient data management. The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act Conference Report included language on the matter. Of particular note, Section 836 directs the Secretary of Defense to formally establish a digital data management and analytics capability to integrate all aspects of the Department’s acquisition process. Now the question becomes – how will the Department budget to implement and sustain effective data management? Perhaps a future Department requirement to map data initiatives in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request and beyond to the DoD Data Strategy’s goals.      

Tim Frank
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Tim Frank

Tim Frank is the Director, Defense Federal Government Affairs, bringing over a decade of experience at the intersection of the Defense Department, Congress, and Industry. Prior to joining Splunk, Tim worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer, focused on information management, legislative, public, and international affairs. During the Obama Administration, he served as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, focusing on information technology and cybersecurity issues. Tim holds a JD from Michigan State University College of Law and a BA in Political Science from Grand Valley State University.

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