The GAO report was prompted by a request from the House Education and the Workforce Committee, responding to complaints from states and school districts that data collection and reporting was burdensome and duplicative.
The Congressional watchdog agency found the department has taken extensive steps to establish internal control objectives and mechanisms, such as verifying the accuracy and validity of information about the many data collections. When GAO contacted OMB about the inventory of data collections, OMB officials said creating such an inventory should be considered "a best practice for federal agencies." OMB added that they did not know of any other agency creating an inventory, and that "Education was a leader in this practice."
Some of the data collections already included in the inventory are EDFacts, a centralized system of state-reported K-12 educational performance data; its Civil Rights Data Collection; and statistical data collections conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Still to be incorporated is the Common Core of Data and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Data collections such as those tracking federal student aid programs also will be added.
[ Learn how data can help federal agencies do more with less. Data-Driven Results Influence Federal Budget Cuts. ]
When the inventory is complete, it will contain more than 300 metadata fields covering the context of each data collection, such as the type of respondent (e.g., state, postsecondary, etc.), whether the data collection is voluntary or mandatory, frequency and most recent year in that data collection, and estimated burden time to comply with the collection.
Brand Niemann, former senior enterprise architect and data scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, and now senior data scientist at Semanticommunity.net, applauded Education's creation of a data collection inventory.
"Yes, (creating an) inventory of data assets for a purpose like data quality assurance, integration across multiple data sets and avoiding collection duplication," the way the Department of Education is doing, is a good example of what agencies should be doing, he told InformationWeek in an email.
The department plans to make the inventory available to the public in November 2013, the GAO reported, through a searchable Web database.
While having the inventory is useful, the bigger question is whether the department will make use of the data collections in constructive ways, Niemann said.
This is noteworthy, he said, "if they do something more to demonstrate real value to the public like showing actual examples of using this to create new results with their data and other agencies," he said. "In essence they have created a data ecosystem, now they should use it themselves."