Resource Data

OPM sets the bar for agencies hiring data scientists with new professional qualifications


Agencies looking to hire data scientists now have a clearer standard on what a qualified candidate should bring to the job.

The Office of Personnel Management released its new professional series for data scientists in government last week, a project in development for more than two years.

OPM’s Professional Series for Data Scientists establishes a foundation that will help agencies identify potential employees with the right skillsets, and help build a federal community of practice around data modernization that has grown. in recent years with the creation of the Chief Data Officers Council.

CDOs have reported significant progress in meeting the first 10-year Federal Data Strategy goals, but have repeatedly sought to increase staff and increase the overall data literacy of the federal workforce. .

More than half of those polled in a recent Data Foundation and Grant Thornton survey of federal CDOs said their office has 10 or fewer full-time employees, and 50% said they hire contractors. to aid in data product design, data operations, and data visualizations.

The OPM worked with the Census Bureau, the Board of Chief Information Officers, the Bureau of Management and Budget and other partner agencies to create the new series of data scientists.

The OPM professional series is based on the guidelines it published to agencies in June 2019, which gave them the option of adding a “data scientist” tag in parentheses on positions “that perform research work. data science as an important part of the job, not as an ancillary obligation.

Kimberly Holden, OPM Deputy Associate Director for Talent Acquisition, Classifications and Veterans Programs, in a note to agency human resources directors, said data science work can be found in a range of existing professional series, including healthcare, statistics and IT specialist positions.

Holden, in the memo, said agencies can continue to add “data scientist” to job titles in various sets of federal occupations, in an effort to maximize the flexibility agencies have to manage their workforce.

“The work of Data Scientist is multifaceted and requires talent from interdisciplinary backgrounds,” Holden wrote.

The OMB, in the 2021 action plan for the federal data strategy, said the OPM should publish the new data scientist job series before the end of the year, which would help agencies recruit data talent in demand more easily.

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act that Congress passed in January 2019 required the OPM to create the data scientist job series.

The National Defense Authorization Act 2022 that President Joe Biden signed on Tuesday also directs the OPM to “establish or update one or more professional series” covering federal jobs in data science and data management, as well as software development and software engineering jobs.

Data Foundation policy director Corinna Turbes said this NDAA provision would help create a “federal workforce equipped to manage and operate data in federal agencies.”

“Improving the recruitment and retention of top talent in the federal government workforce is critical to creating data-savvy organizations that can fully realize the benefits of mining data for business. evidence-based decision making, ”said Turbes.

Agencies have 12 months to use this new professional series to rank data science jobs, but must immediately implement qualification standards for new hires.

The OPM defines the basic qualifications for data science positions as a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistics, computer science, data science or a related field.

The agency also considers candidates eligible for data science positions if they have a “combination of education and experience” equivalent to a four-year degree.

OPM’s data scientist job series covers positions that involve extracting and interpreting datasets, as well as visualizing them to highlight their results.

“The main objective of the work of data scientists is to provide managers or leaders with objectivity-based information derived from the use of advanced scientific, mathematical and statistical principles and theories,” says OPM in its classification of posts. “The results of this data will be used to make data-driven decisions regarding the administrative and programmatic aspects of the agency’s operations and management. “

The work of data scientists, notes OPM, may overlap with some of the skills required in related fields, such as computer science, math, statistics, and computer science.

The memo also differentiates the roles and responsibilities of data scientists from similar positions, including data analysts, data architects, and data engineers.

“Data scientists primarily apply advanced quantitative, computer, mathematical and statistical skills to interpret extremely large and unstructured data sets and ask questions about the unknown. It differs from other data science job roles such as data analysts, data architects, and data engineers. These other professional roles may not require the same skills as a data scientist and therefore may not be appropriately categorized in this series, ”the memo reads.

The work of federal data scientists includes analyzing performance data to assess the effectiveness of agency programs. OPM also expects qualified data science candidates to have a basic mastery of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools.

“Data scientist[s] use technology to organize huge data sets and work with complex algorithms. The tools used by the data scientist[s] are complex, requiring expertise in coding, prototyping, and integration with complex data systems. The exploration of big data by the data scientist[s] requires the use of powerful technology to explore data, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, ”the memo reads.

OPM conducted an in-depth review of the data science work, which included focus groups with the agency’s human capital officers, subject matter experts, and executives.

The Data Scientists Professional Series marks the latest in a series of government-wide efforts this year to bring data experts into government and increase the overall data proficiency of the federal workforce .

OPM worked with the Chief Data Officers Council and US Digital Service in January to lead a government-wide data science hiring initiative.

The initiative gave applicants the opportunity to apply for 50 data science positions through a single application. Ten agencies have launched a call to hire program analysts at the GS-13 and 14 levels with at least one year of prior experience.

Applicants went through a Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment (SMEQE) which gave data scientists already working in agencies a seat at the table to review applications, rather than relying on applicants who did. assess themselves. OPM received more than 500 applications in less than 48 hours.

OMB also saw its first cohort of federal employees graduating from its data science development program at Mya.

The OMB has accepted 61 federal employees from 20 agencies to pilot its federal data science program. Agencies called for applications and submitted names for the program between July and August last year. Accepted employees then underwent training from September to January.