First Todd Park, former Department of Health and Human Services chief technology officer, bet on health data in a big way; got his upcoming Health Data Palloza, and then became our new Federal CTO.

Then Gus Hunt, CIA CTO, bet on big data for the Intelligence Community and got its budget increased by Congress, reflecting a governmental shift in IT priorities, from a Defense Department style network-centric focus toward the IC’s big data-centric focus.

Now the Defense Department is in the big data game with their big bet to the tune of $250 million announced Thursday at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Big Data Research and Development Initiative.

The assistant secretary of Defense, in a letter released yesterday, said “We intend to change the game and plan to be the fist to leverage big data across the full scope of military operations in new and unconventional ways.”

There are five other agencies who were present at the AAAS Auditorium event which are contributing much smaller (or non-disclosed amounts) as follows:

  • National Science Foundation: $10 million, plus several smaller grants
  • DARPA: $25 million annually for four years
  • National Institutes of Health: No money, but the world’s largest set of data on human genetic variation freely available
  • Department of Energy: $25 million
  • USGS: New grants for unspecified amounts
But where does this new initiative leave us?

I think it leaves us with a disconnected federal big data program between the science and intelligence communities with the former considerably behind the latter.

The report, “Designing a Digital Future: Federally Funded Research and Development in Networking and Information Technology,” prepared by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), said: “Every federal agency needs to have a “big data” strategy.

I did not hear that today either from every agency or across all the agencies. The recent 2012 Big Data Government Forum provided a much more comprehensive view of best practices around Big Data technology, trends, and issues from senior government executives, data scientists, and vendors.

As Professor Jim Hendler, RPI Computer Scientist, commented during the meeting: “Computer scientists like us have to move to the social science side of things to really do big data.”

This new White House Initiative needs Todd Park’s entrepreneurial spirit, Gus Hunt’s experience, and DoD’s new money, spent in a coordinated way with the IC and civilian agencies to make big data across the federal government a reality.