Just How Important is Data Quality?

With the increasing push for IT modernization, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud platforms, and robotic process automation (RPA), we might want to step back and take a look at the aspect of quality in this new reality. Is the data these processes were built upon reliable? Do the results we see demonstrate significant progress? Of course, there will be growing pains, but we can see that mainstream America, and much of the modern world, has embraced these new technologies at work and in life.

It is vital for us to maintain a high standard of quality for the data that we are gathering, sharing, and using to make broad-based, far-reaching decisions. Let’s look at a few examples of how data is taking center stage in the Federal Government.

Even Auditors Must Assess Data Reliability

Although the purpose of an audit itself is to verify the accuracy of financial statements and ensure compliance with regulations, an auditor must also scrutinize the reliability of the data itself. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published Assessing Data Reliability, which provides a risk-based framework for auditors to assess the accuracy, completeness, and applicability of data for an audit. It calls on auditors to make use of existing information, professional judgment, and key decision-makers. The report also includes sample interview questions, data test examples, and language to be used to report the determined reliability of the data.

This comprehensive instruction demonstrates the supreme importance of ensuring data quality in all activities related to the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS).

Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset

Even the tagline of the Federal Data Strategy, “Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset,” proclaims the importance of data among the current administration’s priorities. Aligned with the Strategy’s principles of accountability, infrastructure, and education, the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan outlines 20 specific actions which include the establishment of a Chief Data Officer Council, to be established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that will:

  • Establish government-wide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination, and generation of data.
  • Promote and encourage data sharing agreements between agencies.
  • Identify ways in which agencies can improve upon the production of evidence for use in policymaking.
  • Consult with the public and engage with private users of government data and other stakeholders on how to improve access to data assets of the Federal Government.
  • Identify and evaluate new technology solutions for improving the collection and use of data.

Best practices for data collection, use, and sharing will include processes to ensure that the data is reliable because it will be used to inform and guide policy and procedures throughout the government.

The Accuracy of Our Census Data is Crucial

The Census data guides the distribution of more than a trillion dollars of Federal funding to more than 300 programs that support essentials such as medical care, food, housing, education, and highways. This data also determines congressional apportionment and redistricting and informs the social, demographic, and economic profile of the nation that guides policy decisions at every level of government.

The GAO’s recently published 2020 Census: Changes Planned to Improve Data Quality, examines ways to resolve issues that impact data quality. Among several recommendations was establishing residence criteria. GAO also established a new process for addressing issues related to multiple responses at one address, missing, incomplete, or conflicting information:

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Failing to ensure the accuracy of Census data could result in devastating consequences for the nation, each state, our cities, towns, and communities, and perhaps most severely on families and individuals in need.

Quality Counts, Especially Data Quality

From the overarching White House strategies to GAGAS best practices and documenting who lives where during the 2020 Census, the potential value of data is limited only by its reliability. Any steps that can be taken to ensure it is accurate are crucial. Wouldn’t you agree?

Written by:
Natalie Komitsky
Media Type:

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