RU alumnus discusses big data challenges and opportunities with IT students
No institution seeks guidance about the relationship between spending and results more than the federal government.
Amy Edwards '00, director of the Government Performance Task Force of the United States Senate Budget Committee, shared insights from that quest when she met with the more than 30 members of Professor of Information Technology Jeff Pittges' Data Warehousing class on Thursday in Porterfield Hall.
Tasked with examining the information base for decision-making and identifying opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and services, Edwards knows first hand the challenge of making sense of a deluge of data.
"The goal is to deliver the best results and outcomes," said Edwards. "Researchers and data miners like you can help decision makers like those in Congress do that."
Edwards pointed to the trove of government data that is, by law, posted at data.gov.
"There is so much more data on inputs and outcomes there than we know how to use effectively right now. We need the capacity to do this," she told the aspiring information technology professionals.
Edwards referred to a recent survey of federal chief information officers that called filling the need for data analysts with expertise a top priority. Edwards talked about how the variety of departmental terminologies and taxonomies makes understanding, much less streamlining, the voluminous activities problematic.
As the director of a committee charged with holding government accountable, she said, "We are on the cusp of major reform. The more we can standardize data, the more helpful we can be in terms of providing program evaluation and cost benefit analyses that decision makers can use."
As a model making use of the value of data, she pointed to the jobs and private sector economic growth that has come as a result of the distribution of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather and geospatial data by app developers and other private sector entrepreneurs. Edwards cited a recent study that estimates that more than $3 trillion worth of "untapped, exciting and emergent" economic activity exists in other governmental data.
As director, Edwards supports the task force, chaired by Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia). With Senator Warner, she has championed the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act and the Government Performance and Results Act. The DATA Act aims to overhaul and improve spending data transparency in government.
"For an enterprise as large as the federal government, a rich, full discussion about any issue is based on reliable information," she said. " That requires data that has integrity and quality."
Prior to her Senate staff service, Edwards was with the Pew Center on the States where she was manager of the Government Performance Project that issued reports cards on the management of 50 states. She has also served as the senior director of leadership and performance at the Council for Excellence in Government and as the communication director for Harvard University's Innovations in American Government Award. In 2014, Edwards was named by fedscoop.com as one of the District of Columbia's Top 50 Women in Tech.
Edwards reflected on how a RU criminal justice major became the "budget lady."
"Getting out and working with people helped to fuel my passion," said Edwards, whose career began with undergraduate volunteer work on behalf the regional Head Start programs. "It is really important to try different things that can hone you in on where you want to be."
About her Radford experience, Edwards said, "I was a first generation college student and didn't know what to expect. RU helped me figure out what it meant to be a professional and gave me experience and confidence."