Webinar 40
Data Governance: A Federal Perspective

April 3, 2019

Summary of the Federal Highway Administration’s Quarterly Webinar


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) promotes geographic information systems (GIS) as a means to more effectively manage and improve transportation systems. One of the ways that FHWA does this is through its GIS in Transportation program,1 which identifies timely and critical GIS issues and topics in transportation and connects transportation agencies with available resources and best practices. The webinar summarized here is part of a quarterly series, which is organized through the GIS in Transportation program.

Mark Sarmiento (Mark.Sarmiento@dot.gov) presented on data governance at the State and Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) levels. Mr. Sarmiento discussed the definition of data governance that the U.S. DOT has developed, lessons learned from State DOTs, and data governance resources available to State DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).

A recording of the webinar can be viewed here.

Federal Highway Administration and Data Governance

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is in the process of a data governance effort to make their information technology (IT) services enterprise-based. As part of this effort, FHWA has gone through the process of defining data governance. Data governance as defined by FHWA is the discipline that established the criteria and requirements for data; their quality, management, policies, business process; and risk management for handling of data within FHWA. In short, data governance is a corporate approach to collecting and managing data. FHWA recognizes the importance of data and has incorporated data into their 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. Each of the strategic objectives in the Strategic Plan touches on data with the first objective explicitly referring to data by stating “To save lives by expanding the use of data-driven systemic safety management systems and increasing the adoption of proven safety solution by all road owners.” Data is also of great importance to the U.S. DOT in the development of the Conditions and Performance report, which FHWA submits to Congress to inform them of the state of the country’s road network. The Condition and Performance report is fed by the Highway Performance Management System (HPMS), National Bridge Inventory (NBI), and the National Transit Database (NTD). These datasets are all developed using data provided by the States. Therefore, the U.S. DOT is invested in State DOTs excelling in obtaining and maintaining quality data.

State DOTs and Data Governance

Part of the investment that FHWA continues to make in State DOTs for quality data is working with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to put together the Geographic Information Systems in Transportation (GIS-T) symposium. At the symposium, AASHTO provides participants—primarily State DOT representatives—a survey with a series of questions that help determine where to focus resources. One of the questions asks participants what projects are their agencies working on in the coming year. Over the last few years, survey results indicated that most participants are working on projects related to data governance, asset management, and spatial data warehousing.

Building on the information captured through the GIS-T survey, FHWA developed case studies and held a peer exchange on data governance over the last year. The States that participated in these efforts include Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. The participants noted their motivations for pursuing data governance included:

  • Improve the communication of data throughout the agency;
  • Become fluent with modern technology and best practices from other State DOTs;
  • Anticipate problems before they happen; and
  • Improve the accessibility of data.

When participants were asked more specifically why they were interested in data governance they noted that they are trying to be more effective and efficient with funding and labor. Additionally, it was noted that technology advances are making it easier to collect, store, deliver, and use a lot of data. Furthermore, State DOTs want to support enterprise GIS efforts and have an agency-wide perspective on transportation data and the tools available within a State DOT. Finally, participants noted that data are a business asset and must be managed as such.

The GIS-T survey also included a question regarding activities State DOTs are currently engaged in. Several States noted that they are involved with enterprise data input and participation, which involves an enterprise effort to determine policies and standards. The Connecticut DOT, for example, has taken a unique approach to enterprise data policies and standards by having two data groups. One group is located in the executive level and a second group is in the working level. Other activities State DOTs are involved in include studying uses of data and data needs, documenting data better, executive-level officer development, and taking advantage of current priorities/needs to initiate data governance efforts. The Michigan DOT noted that they are developing a data glossary so that everyone understands what is meant when referring to a specific term. All DOTs noted that it is critical to have a person at a high level in the agency be responsible for data. Typically, this person serves as a Chief Data Officer.

When asked what some of the benefits and challenges of Data Governance are, participants noted that the benefits include:

  • Communicating value to executive management;
  • Facilitating collaboration between agency staff;
  • Organization structures, which are highly effective implementation tools; and
  • Positive impacts are quickly recognized and appreciated by staff.

Participants also noted the following challenges:

  • Agency culture can be difficult to overcome;
  • Bureaucracy between executives and the agency can result in miscommunication;
  • Personnel turnover causes knowledge gaps and a loss of momentum;
  • Internal departments and teams have different missions and can forget about the big picture; and
  • Administrators’ focus is on engineering and can prevent them from understanding the value of data governance and data management.

Some of the lessons learned from State DOTs include:

  • Definitions of these concepts may differ in language, but they are functionally the same;
  • Without a governing body, implementing data governance is very difficult;
  • Data governance and data management have a symbiotic relationship; and
  • A GIS-specific Capability Maturity Model (CMM) would benefit State DOTs.

When asked what FHWA can be doing to support the State DOTs, the State DOTS noted FHWA can provide organization charts for governance structures, highlight more examples and have more peer exchanges, have an authoritative voice, and have guidance on data requirements, suggested activities, funding, and ways to shift agency culture.


The FHWA has resources for State DOTS to help with data governance. The FHWA Office of Safety looks at several data areas including roadway data collection and technical standards, data analysis tools and uses, and data management and governance. When working on these topics, Bob Pollack (Robert.Pollack@dot.gov) and Stuart Thompson (Stuart.Thompson@dot.gov) are points of contact in the Office of Safety.

Another resource FHWA provided is the Transportation Performance Management (TPM) Toolbox. The TPM Toolbox has two components that can help with data: Component C and Component D. Component C focuses on data management and component D has a data usability and analysis assessment. These components can help agencies better understand how their data fit and support transportation performance management. In this field, Susanna Hughes-Reck (Susanna.HughesReck@dot.gov) is the point of contact in the Office of Stewardship, Oversight and Management.

FHWA also requires a data quality management plan as part of the performance management requirements for highway pavements. The data quality management plan defines the acceptable level of data quality and describes how the data collection process will ensure this level of quality. The data quality management plan also addresses critical areas where errors occur. Here, Thomas Van (Thomas.Van@dot.gov) is the point of contact in the Office of Preconstruction, Construction and Pavements.

FHWA also makes available the HPMS, which is a national-level dataset on the extent, condition, and use of the country’s highways. Every State participates in developing the HPMS through the submittal of data. For HPMS, Chris Allen (Chris.Allen@dot.gov) is the point of contact in the Office of Highway Policy Information.

The Transportation Research Board also has available a few resources. Some of the resources include:

Question & Answer

Does the Federal Highway Administration coordinate with the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and other agencies on data governance standards?
Mr. Sarmiento noted that although he has not been involved in any data governance meetings that does not mean they are not taking place at a higher level in the U.S. DOT. The U.S. DOT has a Chief Data Officer, which Mr. Sarmiento said speaks volumes. To Mr. Sarmiento’s knowledge, the Chief Data Officer has been involved in some meetings at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.

1 See the FHWA GIS in Transportation website for details: https://gis.fhwa.dot.gov/.

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