Survey: ‘Big data’ could cut $380 billion from federal budget, government IT officials say

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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A recent survey found that a high percentage of federal and state government IT officials polled believe that real-time “big data” analytics could help governments save money and lives.

Growing interest by the private and public sectors in the beneficial impacts of “big data” analytics has companies and government officials searching for new ways to make sense of the large swaths of data they have been collecting for years.

The survey — which was released Feb. 19 by TechAmerica Foundation and commissioned by SAP AG — polled nearly 200 public IT officials.

It found that a majority of them believe that real-time big data solutions could help create substantial budget cuts, further reduce crime and enhance the quality of life for citizens.

Eighty-three percent of federal IT officials surveyed believe that implementing such technology could even enable $380 billion to be cut from the federal budget per year.

Both state and local officials, however, viewed the lifesaving impact that real-time big data analytics could have as more important than the cost saving impact.

In the case of medical treatments and reducing crime, 63 percent of surveyed federal officials said that medical application of the technology is “very important”; 76 percent of state IT officials said the technology could be “extremely beneficial.”

“The findings from this study underscore the infinite potential of Big Data and reaffirm the findings of our Big Data Commission,” said Jennifer Kerber, president of the TechAmerica Foundation, in a statement.

“The governments can save money and improve their service to citizens is clear from this study but it’s also clear that we must find ways to overcome adoption barriers — quickly”, said Kerber.

“The ongoing budget debates in Washington and many state capitals are a useful moment to appreciate what Big Data tools can do for government,” said Jennifer Morgan, president of SAP Public Services, said in a statement.

“By combining disparate sources of data and analyzing them in real time, government leaders and citizens can turn ‘Big Data’ into ‘smart data’ and gain a much clearer picture of how to save taxpayer dollars and even save lives,” said Morgan.

“Practical concerns such as costs, consumer privacy, and return on investment must be addressed carefully so that we can gain the enormous benefits of using Big Data tools,” said Morgan.

Significant cultural and practical barriers to adoption include privacy concerns, high costs, lack of clarity of return on investment and the length of time it takes to conduct a database query.

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, told The Daily Caller that database queries “would get a lot simpler and cheaper if the federal government did a bit of basic data management.”

“The federal government, quite simply, doesn’t do any enterprise-wide data management,” said Hollister.

According to the TechAmerica/SAP study, about 40 percent of state and federal IT officials thought that database queries take too long “using traditional database technology.”

He also noted the lack of a federal chief data officer in the White House and at most agencies, as well as the lack of Congressional mandates “for the establishment of interoperable data formats.” said Hollister.

“It’s nobody’s job to set up and enforce government-wide identifiers and markup languages for the most basic concepts (agencies, awards, programs, regulated entities) and filings (especially filings by grantees and contractors and regulatory filings),” he told TheDC.

“Without government-wide data management, the problems pointed out on page 11 will persist and get worse,” he said.

“The DATA Act, if it passes this year as we expect it to, will start to fix this problem within the federal financial management domain; we have plans to pursue additional legislation in other domains”, said Hollister.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) — which seeks to simplify and increase transparency for federal government spending data — was first introduced to both both chambers of Congress in 2011. A revised version of the bill was reintroduced in the Senate in late 2012.

In a January blog post, Hollister said that believed that the bill would again be reintroduced and passed this year.

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Josh Peterson