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CHIPS Articles: OPM Issues Data Scientist Titling Guidance

OPM Issues Data Scientist Titling Guidance
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2019
Data Science is a hot career field and rapidly increasing in importance as organizations begin to understand the value of data management, analytics and visibility in business, healthcare, academic institutions and government enterprises.

Recognizing the criticality of this evolving field and high demand for data scientists, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is working, in collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget and the Chief Information Officer Council, to explore data scientist work in the federal government. The effort supports the Foundation for Evidence – Based Policymaking Act of 2018 and the President’s Management Agenda by assisting in agency efforts to recruit top talent in a variety of occupations, according to an OPM memo which details data scientist titling guidance.

It further supports the establishment of the role of Chief Data Officers and supporting staff in federal agencies (Foundations for Evidence – Based Policymaking Act, §3520).

Data Scientists are defined as practitioners with sufficient knowledge in the areas of business needs, domain knowledge, analytical skills, and software and systems engineering to manage the end-to-end data processes in a data life cycle.

The purpose of the memo is to provide titling guidance to agency Human Resources Offices for use in classifying data science positions within government agencies.

Data science is a rapidly changing field and positions can be classified in a number of different occupational series based on the nature of the work. Data scientist work involves overlapping skills including: data analysis, analytical applications, big data engineering, algorithms, domain expertise, such as data cleansing, data management, analytics, visualization and engineering, as well as statistics and machine learning. Data Scientists use expertise in one of more of these domains to solve complex data problems, OPM reported.

OPM has determined that data science work is found in various occupational series, including but not limited to, the Epidemiology - Medical and Health Care Series (0601); Actuarial Science Series (1510); Operations Research Series (1515); Statistician Series (1530), and IT Specialist - Data Administration (2210). The occupational series in which data scientist work is performed is determined by the domain expertise required to conduct data scientist activities.

Within 5 U.S.C., Chapter 51 prescribes titling policy and guidance for agency use. The requirement to use official titles, however, does not preclude agencies from using any unofficial title they choose for positions. Unofficial titles, such as those relating to specific agency organizations or programs, are appropriate and may be helpful for internal agency use or for recruiting purposes, but are not always descriptive of the overall occupation for governmentwide purposes, OPM said.

This guidance authorizes agencies to use a parenthetical of (Data Scientist) along with the occupational title for positions that perform data science work as a major portion of the job, and not as a collateral duty, for example Statistician (Data Science). Parenthetical titles indicate special knowledge and skills needed to perform the work of a position and must be based on the evaluation of work.

OPM will take an evidence-based approach to determine if additional flexibilities may be required. OPM encourages Human Resources Offices to collaborate with their CIO organizations and Data Scientist Managers regarding job design for data scientist positions and titling.

If you have any questions, please contact April Davis, Director of Classification and Assessment Policy, at or (202) 606-3600 with questions related to job design and titling.

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