Insight by Booz Allen Hamilton

Women of Washington: Data science and machine learning in government

New data, technology create an avenue for public and agencies to grow closer together

On this episode of Women of Washington, host Gigi Schumm welcomed four female executives who have begun embracing new tools in data science and machine learning to help their agencies modernize and run more efficiently.

Included on the panel were Nancy Potok, chief statistician of the U.S. at the Office of Management and Budget; Christina Ho, deputy assistant secretary for accounting policy and financial transparency at the Treasury Department; Robyn Konkel, attorney advisor at the Social Security Administration and Angela Zutavern, vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Innovations in analysis – cyber, data and even medicine – help to keep agencies up-to-date and transparent.

“Very valuable data is [now] crossing over to help the federal government, states and localities with their operations,” Potok said. “For example, setting up really strong scientific computing environments is allowing cities, for example, to get access to federal data and their own data, and partner with universities and consultants to really understand their operations.”

Before taking her current position, Potok worked for the Census Bureau where she saw firsthand how the Bureau was able to save over $5 billion when revamping operations for the 2020 census. She said the agency did so by investing in real-time data research.

Christina Ho, a major player in the implementation of the first open data law, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA), said routinely publishing data from the more than 100 federal agencies would help to potentially set a standard and validate the information between agencies. She said this could also help to fill in human capital gaps in terms of analytics, especially with the help of machine learning.

“We are doing a lot of work now to analyze it … and apply machine learning on some of the data to learn more,” Ho said. “I think that by incorporating some of these technologies, it can help us fill some of these gaps and help us be able to derive more value for the agencies … and for the public and stimulate innovation in the private sector.”

One of the biggest challenges can be turning data and numbers into useful intelligence. Ho explained how certain forms of collected data could be turned into a reference source or used for decision-making in the government.

“I have seen some recent examples where people used the spending data [and linked it] with other data, like demographic or unemployment rate, to assess the effectiveness of a particular policy,” she said. “Using machine-learning technology will allow us to be able to do a lot more at scale.”

One issue that arises when implementing new technology is privacy. Potok mentioned the importance in distinction between open data and statistical confidential information covered by the Privacy Act.

“There [are] a lot of very serious policy issues that I think the government has to come to grips with in order to advance this further, because its technology, but it’s not just a technology issue,” Potok said.

 

Host

Gigi Schumm, Host of Women of Washington, Federal News Radio

Gigi Schumm is host of Women of Washington on FederalNewsRadio.com and 1500 AM. Women of Washington is a weekly radio program that features interviews with Washington D.C.’s ambitious and influential female executives – role models for the next generation Washington leader. Every week, Schumm interviews the most accomplished women in Washington, who share their life lessons and secrets to success.

 

Panelists

Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician of the U.S.

Dr. Nancy Potok is Chief Statistician of the United States and Chief of the Statistical and Science Policy Branch in the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Prior to January 2017, she served as Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau.  She has also served as Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at the US Department of Commerce;  Principal Associate Director and CFO at the Census Bureau; Senior Vice President for Economic, Labor, and Population Studies at NORC at the University of Chicago; and Chief Operating Officer at McManis & Monsalve Associates,  a business analytics consulting firm.  She is an adjunct professor at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at The George Washington University.  Dr. Potok is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the Board of Trustees for the Arthur S. Flemming Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by federal employees with fewer than 15 years of service, and the GWU Trachtenberg School Advisory Board.  Dr. Potok received her PhD in public policy and public administration at The George Washington University, with an emphasis on program evaluation.

 

Christina Ho, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Accounting Policy and Financial Transparency, U.S. Department of the Treasury

Christina Ho is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Accounting Policy and Financial Transparency.  Her office is responsible for leading the development, implementation, and enforcement of accounting policies governing federal financial activities and promoting innovation in federal financial management.  She successfully led the government-wide implementation of the Digital Accountability & Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) with the goal to track nearly $4 trillion dollars in annual spending and link data from budget, accounting, procurement and financial assistance into one common standard. In addition, she represents the Department of Treasury on the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB).  Prior to her appointment as DAS, Christina held leadership positions with Bureau of the Fiscal Service at Treasury and was a senior manager at Deloitte & Touche, LLP.  Christina is a certified public accountant (CPA) and a certified information system auditor (CISA).

 

Robyn Konkel, Attorney Advisor, Social Security Administration

Robyn Konkel is a Senior Attorney-Adviser with the Office of Appellate Operations, Social Security Administration.  In 2007, she graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master’s in Public Policy where she focused on social welfare policy and quantitative analytics.  She received a law degree from the University of Michigan in 2009.  Robyn started working as an attorney at SSA in 2010, and has spent the last four years harnessing data analytics to help inform executive-level decision making and identify opportunities to improve the disability adjudication process.

 

Angela Zutavern, Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton

Angela Zutavern, a Vice President at Booz Allen, has pioneered the application of machine intelligence to organizational leadership and strategy. She is an inventor of the machine intelligence and data science strategies that are now helping business and government organizations make better decisions and gain competitive advantages.

Angela led Booz Allen’s most advanced data science research and development efforts, including the areas of deep learning and quantum machine learning. She is passionate about data science for social good and helped create the Data Science Bowl, a first-of-its-kind, world-class competition that solves global issues through machine intelligence.

Angela co-authored the 2017 book The Mathematical Corporation, which explores how organizations and their leaders can beat the competition by coupling human ingenuity with the mathematical power of machine intelligence.

A frequent industry, academic, and media speaker on the power of data science, Angela convenes the Chief Data Officer (CDO) Council for the U.S. federal government community. In addition, she is actively involved in strengthening diversity and inclusion, especially in technology, and is an enthusiastic champion of women in data science. Angela also serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports ICE employees in their homeland security and public safety missions. She holds a B.S. degree in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech and an M.B.A. degree from Southern Methodist University.