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Putting the Power of Data to Work for America

White House Chief Data Scientist Dr. DJ Patil elaborates on his role at the White House, and the NOAA dataset that helped get him where he is today.

There’s lots of talk these days in the tech community about organizations being data-driven.

If you look across all organizations out there, which one has made the biggest change in being data driven? My answer is the U.S. Government. As a data scientist, one thing I can guarantee is that this is the most data-driven President we’ve ever had. Need proof?

This is the President that established -- a one stop shop for the data that is produced by the government. And that list of data sets is growing thanks to the President’s Executive Action that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information. This Administration also created the first set of dashboards at the Federal level to monitor over $70 billion in IT investments. On top of that the President announced in the State of the Union his ambitious plan to bring together big data, data science, and medicine to make precision medicine a reality.

For me, data is deeply personal. When I was a first year graduate student at the University of Maryland, I was interested in studying weather patterns.

Each night I would arrive at the department as everyone was leaving and use every computer to download data from NOAA and the National Weather Service. All night, I would download and process the data and then crash for a few hours before heading to class. 

This went on for months as I tried different ways to process and test the data before patterns began to emerge. That led our research team to discover the weather wasn’t as chaotic as people had believed and that we could improve weather forecasting. Here the thing, if it wasn’t for that open data, none of my research could have taken place. That opportunity literally set the foundation for my career. That work taught me the essential skills to become what we now call a data scientist.

Take a look at the reanalysis of the original NOAA dataset that DJ worked with here.

We have an incredible opportunity to unleash the power of data to create better government, build better services for our citizens, and unlock new economic innovations. Take for example some of the incredible work that the VA is doing in using data to provide better services. Or the potential when we bring NOAA data together with Census data to better understand flood plain impact as populations move. Central to Precision Medicine is data. This promising initiative will leverage advances in genomics, emerging methods for managing and analyzing large data sets while protecting privacy, and health information technology to accelerate biomedical discoveries and save lives.

It’s an honor to have the opportunity to return to public service. But I can’t do it alone. Data science is a team sport. Don’t take my word for it: Listen to the President’s message to the data science community.

If we’re really going to make the world better through data, it’s going to take all of us. So, here’s my call to those of you in the tech and data sectors: We need your help. Come on and join in and help make our country better. Want to know more about what we’re going to be working on? Check out our first memo on this work.

I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts -- and, if you’re game, if you'd sign up for public service with me, one of the other teams that are recruiting, or the new U.S. Digital Service. To do so, go to

Dr. DJ Patil is Chief Data Scientist and Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Policy at the White House.