Like 18F, but for Commerce: Introducing the Commerce Data Corps

Borrowing an idea from 18F and USDS, the Commerce Department is creating an in-house team to help its agencies with data projects.

Commerce Department Chief Data Officer Ian Kalin likes what the General Services Administration’s 18F office is doing so much, he’s stealing the idea.

Kalin announced Thursday the formation of the Commerce Data Corps, a group housed inside the Commerce Department that will be deployed to help its agencies rapidly create and develop projects to achieve their mission.

“I’m so inspired by the accomplishments, success, the spirit and initiative from 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, the U.S. Digital Service, that when I came in as the new chief data officer, I took those experiences and they fueled my own perception of opportunities within my own department to improve the diverse missions and objections of the 12 bureaus in this holding company that we call the Commerce Department,” said Kalin during a Commerce Data Advisory Committee meeting in Santa Clara, California.

The to-be-assembled team will operate under a shared services model and be deployed within the department as problems or needs arise.


“The values to the bureaus will be that we will deliver experts to integrate with their teams to help them accomplish their goals on the projects they are already working on,” he said. “You’re not just going to get a genius, an enthusiastic expert. You are going to get a very clear return on investment.”

That investment is a crucial part of what Kalin wants this group to accomplish. He pressed that this corps will be operate like a startup within the agency, figuring out ways to stem the costs of bloated IT projects.

“We are mitigating otherwise inefficient IT procurements and saving at least $10 for every $1 [a bureau] spends on these new experts and shared service,” he said. “This is going to transform so much of the way the Department of Commerce does business.”

Kalin is creating the corps with a $3 million budget from Commerce and the ability to recruit talent from the pipelines created by the 18F and U.S. Digital Service. (U.S. Digital Service has a stack of resumes in the “low thousands,” FedScoop wrote earlier Friday.)

“We’re hunting and farming for the world’s greatest talent to do this type of work,” he said.


To start this type of work, Kalin announced two new hires: Tyrone Grandison will be the department’s deputy chief data officer while Jeff Chen will become the department’s chief data scientist. Both are currently Presidential Innovation Fellows, serving at the Census Bureau and NASA respectively.

Kalin hopes that those who work for the corps do not consider it a short-term gig. He hopes the progress that comes from the corps sets standards for work within the agency that last for decades.

“The hope is that this becomes the standard way that people build data products,” Kalin said. “The next people who are going down the digital path, they should be asking, ‘Have we made sure that folks are taking a look at this’ or ‘have we ensured that we are doing it the Data Corps way.’ That is a measure of success beyond the return on investment, to ensure that we can, like any other startup, grow and can continue to thrive and become an institution itself within this historical institution.”

Watch Kalin talk more about the Commerce Data Corps during the Commerce Data Advisory Council meeting.

Greg Otto

Written by Greg Otto

Greg Otto is Editor-in-Chief of CyberScoop, overseeing all editorial content for the website. Greg has led cybersecurity coverage that has won various awards, including accolades from the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Greg worked for the Washington Business Journal, U.S. News & World Report and WTOP Radio. He has a degree in broadcast journalism from Temple University.

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