Air Force and EPA Officials Discuss Need for Data Standards and the Benefits of Automating Classification

Speaking at an industry-sponsored WebEx on December 15, 2020, representatives of the United States Air Force (Air Force) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed the value and importance of data management in expanding the application of data for use within their organizations. They emphasized the importance of establishing a common governance framework and metadata standards as critical best practices to promote the broadest interoperability of data applications across agency components and, ultimately, between federal agencies.

The EPA’s Chief Data Officer Richard Allen leads the Chief Data Officers Council which was established to promote better data management across the Executive branch. He argued that without an overall data strategy to prioritize data for multiple uses and metadata standards for use across an organization, people create their own governance and management rules that fragment and hinder data access. He said this siloed data management results in “data mining—that is ‘mine’ and ‘not yours’ —we need to break that down so that all data is interoperable and we can all work with it.”

LTC Ron Synakowski, Director of Data Capabilities for the Air Force, noted that senior three- and four-star generals currently “recognize the decision advantage of data dominance” in the decision-making process. The Air Force particularly draws on the need for a uniform data strategy that aligns across organizations. He highlighted the need to expand data access across functions, and to extend data access to remote operations “on the edge” around the world. He stressed that this is only possible if there are robust metadata standards that all adhere to and use.

In the question-and-answer period, LTC Synakowski discussed how current classification management policies and practices may hinder the sharing of data across secure cloud platforms as humans apply classification guidance in each instance. This increases the likelihood for errors and hinders application of metadata standards. However, he also reported that on specific special projects the Air Force has tested and is implementing artificial intelligence at “a machine-to-machine level” classification that “reduces the probability of making a mistake” by taking humans out of the decision loop.

The presentations by Mr. Allen and LTC Synakowski detailed best practices for data management and the automation of information sharing that the Public Interest Declassification Board has long recommended to facilitate the information security and the efficient use of electronic information for across the Executive branch. A broader discussion of successful use-cases implemented by the Air Force and the EPA would benefit the more effective integration of data management with classification management.

To watch the WebEx event featuring LTC Synakowski and Mr. Allen, and moderated by James Hanson of the media outlet Nextgov, click here.

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