Analytics and “big data” seem to be the next frontier in a number of arenas. Data researchers can use the large, real-time data sets that are available today to facilitate scientific discovery, improve the flow of traffic, and increase energy efficiency, among many other things.
Last year, the White House appointed the first federal Chief Data Scientist. And a few months ago, the federal government released a strategy for big data research and development. Also, numerous initiatives are under way across federal agencies to both release data sets for public use and better use data to manage federal programs.
For years, GAO’s skilled technical staff has provided insights into large data sets that support our work. We have also built up our in-house science and technology expertise. Now, with the increasing use of data across both the public and private sectors, we have established our Center for Enhanced Analytics.
Keeping us cutting edge
Our new Center for Enhanced Analytics has 4 primary goals:
- enhance access to data sources
- assess, customize, and help deploy new technologies
- promote novel analytic approaches
- strengthen analytical skills
All of these goals are focused on making sure we have the data and analytics we need to support our work.
Although the center itself is new, we have long used a variety of analytical approaches to conduct our work. For example, we analyzed a TSA program to determine how much of a flight safety risk each air travel passenger is, and established that the program was not based on sound evidence. In another case, we found that a Department of Transportation program meant to determine the likelihood of commercial truck crashes relied too heavily on events that didn’t happen often enough to be useful. We have also conducted numerous analyses of Medicare payment policies to identify challenges the program faces in payment methods, program management, and safeguards.
Our new Center will allow us to continue such work and do even more of it. According to Center Director Vijay D’Souza, “Analytics is a core component of our audit capabilities, but equally important to our work is our ability to evaluate the quality of the underlying data used in the analyses. An analysis can only be as good as the data it relies on.”
In future years, we are hoping to improve our capabilities so that we can analyze even larger data sets. We are also increasing the use of text analysis. This would allow us to look for key phrases, matches, and similarities in unstructured data—such as large text documents—to help identify patterns, such as those that might indicate potential fraud or improper payments.
You can look forward to seeing the results of all of our work on our website.