A U.S. Data Strategy Net Assessment
Hello, I’m Ylli Bajraktari, CEO of the Special Competitive Studies Project. This edition of 2-2-2 is about data and how the United States can leverage it for economic and societal benefits, as well as global competitive advantage. What can the United States be doing better?
In this edition of 2-2-2, members of the Society Panel – Senior Director Rama Elluru, Senior Director Chuck Howell, Director Jenilee Keefe Singer, and Director Ben Bain – discuss the importance of a United States data strategy.
We often think about measuring the state of the technology competition in terms of hardware innovation, nanometers, petaflops, or number of patents or PhDs trained. Assessing a nation's success in utilizing its dataassets is more difficult, but equally important to the contest. How the United States and China use data to benefit their societies, accelerate their economies, and deliver for their citizens will go a long way toward determining how the contest between autocracies and democracies plays out over the long-run. Successful data utilization is not solely based on the amount of data available, but also on the rules, laws, and strategies that shape if and how data can be collected and used for productive purposes.
A Data Strategy Net Assessment
The United States has more data centers than any other country, is home to the world’s largest technology companies, dominates the big data and business analytics market, and is the world’s largest data producer. But the United States has not effectively organized a whole-of-nation effort to fully leverage its massive government and non-government (private sector, academia, and civil society) data assets to gain a competitive advantage in the global contest with China.
Looking at the objectives of published national data strategies and policies across the globe presents a mixed picture of the competitive landscape. China is developing a national data strategy with the same serious organized approach it has taken with critical technologies like AI, quantum computing, and biotechnology. The European Union (EU) also is approaching data systematically, establishing multiple data regulatory frameworks. The picture in the United States is more uneven, but hardly bleak. We see a way forward that does not succumb to China’s rigid centralized model, but still defines a stronger role for the government in unlocking data, preserving private sector and academia leadership, and strengthening privacy protections that must be the foundation for any data strategy. With a few big moves, the United States can credibly deliver a national data strategy. All are within reach.
What are the Obstacles to Unlocking the Full Value of America’s Data Assets?
The United States is well positioned to use its data assets to its advantage. The initial groundwork has been laid for making whole-of-nation data assets accessible for government, economic, and societal benefits. We are grappling with what comprehensive federal data privacy protections should look like, with the Americans’s Data Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA) at the center. Establishing data privacy protections for non-public data will enable trust in the U.S. data ecosystem leading to increased and more efficient use of data. Congress and the White House have recognized the importance of data. The OPEN Government Data Act requires making U.S. Government (USG) data open and accessible through a single public interface (see here for the recently released Fifth U.S. Open Government National Action Plan). The Office of Management and Budget established a Federal Data Strategy (FDS) that lays out principles and practices for making the most of USG data. Just this year, the White House made data collection and use top priorities via the AI Bill of Rights. And there are bright spots in the non-USG sector with entities sharing data and analytics for the public good. Despite this progress, the United States can and should be doing even more.
The Action Plan:
What would a competitive approach to data look like? SCSP’s latest publication, the National Data Action Plan, provides near-term actions that the United States should take to protect and promote public trust in the U.S. data ecosystem and accelerate accessibility of USG and non–USG data assets.
One of our primary ideas is using public-private partnerships (PPPs) to unlock the opportunities of aggregating USG and non-USG sector data in a controlled and trusted manner for the collective good of all stakeholder participants. A common refrain these days is the need to “unlock the value” in data. There is a lot of data collected by government agencies and non-government organizations that is not being used to its full potential. Data collected by one entity can be tremendously valuable to others. One aspect of this challenge is the complexity around data sharing between USG and non-USG entities. Security, privacy, and IP concerns are always top of mind.
Narrowly-scoped PPPs can help overcome these barriers, allowing for greater data sharing and mutually beneficial data use. The objective of these PPPs is to overcome the reluctance of non-USG sector organizations to share proprietary data with direct competitors, for example, in order to realize the collective benefit from unlocking aggregate analyses. PPPs have common characteristics.
They are formed to address a discrete critical problem or opportunity, which includes a sense of urgency and a justification for each participant to engage.
The PPP is viewed as independent and trusted by all participants, with clear guardrails on data accessibility, sharing, and use. A trusted third-party broker assures participants that their data will be properly protected and only used for approved specific purposes.
There is a strong focus on ensuring privacy and security in the operations of the PPP, to engender public trust that there are adequate protections against unintended use of the shared data.
The partners establish clarity about contractual and legal issues for their relationship (e.g., the treatment of IP or IP-type protection and data rights, policies for avoiding conflicts of interest, the role of an independent trusted third party if one is established, avoiding antitrust/anti-competition issues, or funding and authorization of the PPP).
In our Mid-Decade Challenges to National Competitiveness report, SCSP identified six technology areas critical to U.S. competitiveness: AI, novel computing paradigms, next generation communications networks, biotechnology, energy generation and storage, and areas of technological convergence like advanced manufacturing. Data sharing PPPs can overcome significant barriers to collective benefit and accelerate progress in these areas. Within each of these areas, cross-sector data sharing could, for example, help reduce redundancy in data collection, guide the direction of efforts across the full life cycle of the technology (i.e., from identifying R&D gaps to scaling production to fielding operational use-cases), generate better industry analytics to inform business decisions and government policy making, or assist in collective tracking and mitigation of geopolitical adversarial actions.
In our National Data Action Plan, we call for the U.S. government to actively facilitate the creation of new data-sharing PPPs in each of the six priority technology areas. The six technological areas will all have unique needs with different participants. Significant stakeholder engagement is needed within each technology area to identify the most valuable opportunities for data sharing and to build trust and buy-in. The U.S. government should initiate convenings with the private sector, academia, and civil society and provide necessary support to accelerate action. PPPs should be equipped with tailored agreements and controls to address privacy, data security, democratizing access for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and researchers, and anti-competitive and IP concerns.
To sustain U.S. competitiveness into the future, the United States must set the conditions for the advancement of all key stakeholders in critical technology areas. Unlocking the value of data for the collective good across the government, private sector, academia, and civil society will inform and accelerate innovation and economic growth balanced with responsible governance.
Data refers to all the information generated every day about people, objects, environments, and systems. It is speech, text, imagery, behaviors and actions, sounds, locations, and much more that has been recorded in any form or media. Data is an asset because it helps us to identify novel patterns, investigate causes and impacts, and generate original insights about almost anything in our world leading to improved human decision making and outcomes. This is especially true when artificial intelligence is processing the data because AI can handle significantly more data at faster speeds than humans.