Data scientists and analysts from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency discuss their role in the new ‘Data Corps’ workforce and how they are changing the culture within the organization.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency gathers tons of data every day. To help manage it, NGA has created a “Data Corps” – a group of scientists, engineers, and analysts who can bring their knowledge to the public sector, and teach their skills to others. “There’s about 85 people on our team right now, we really work in small groups of three or four people. We go out there and solve grassroots data problems and challenges inside the agency,” said Andrew Brooks, chief data scientist at NGA. “[We] will sit down with folks and try and understand the challenges and issues that they are having. Unique in what we do is we’ll sit down and not just solve the problem for them, but teach them how to do it themselves.” “The problems that the government are facing are actually problems that transcend industry,” said Cindy Luu, data scientist at NGA. “We’re a group of industry professionals, partnering with people in the government, partnering with people with military experience, all coming together to figure out the best way to shape our solutions to fit the government agency.” The Data Corps has already begun looking for solutions across multiple fields at the agency. “Right now, we are working on a data problem with the financial management directorate, where every year they have to bring up narratives and go to Congress with our budget proposal. From there, we plan on writing a text-analytic script that compares these narratives to the cuts we take from Congress each year. This will not only save our budget analysts lots of time, but also help us be better stewards of taxpayer money,” said Alyson Manning, data analyst at NGA. John Hanke, another NGA data analyst, says that the backgrounds of Corps members are incredibly varied. “Really, every single background is relevant for what we are doing. Not only are these data problems, but people are at the center of those problems. What we are trying to do is empower the workforce in order to better use that data for our mission,” Hanke told Government Matters. NGA Data Analyst Duke Vane says that members of the Data Corps are teaching employees and service members how to utilize data with several tools. “Some of the skills that we are learning are language skills like ‘R,’ which sounds like a pirate language but is actually a statistical programming language that lets you do vector math extremely quickly, and it’s great for working with the data. We also use the Python language, which really helps us beat out the snakes from in the grass, especially when dealing with procedural data problems,” said Vane.