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Fellow perspectives: A day in the life of a data scientist in the federal government

Vivian Vasquez, Ethan Jantz

June 11, 2024

  • Data Science and Analytics
  • ACF
  • CMS

In October 2023, the White House launched the National AI Talent Surge to bring more data scientists and technologists with AI and AI-enabling experience into the federal government. In this blog post, two U.S. Digital Corps Fellows share their experiences working in public service as data scientists and discuss their motivations for applying to USDC.

Ethan Jantz is a data scientist at the Administration for Children and Families and Vivian Vasquez is a data scientist at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

What was your path to the U.S. Digital Corps? Why did you consider applying?

Ethan Jantz:

Prior to joining USDC, I graduated from the University of Illinois with a master’s degree in Civic Analytics, which is a data science and public policy degree. My goal had always been to work in government as a data scientist and I chose to apply to USDC because of the guidance and mentorship that comes with being placed on an established team.

Vivian Vasquez:

I applied to the U.S. Digital Corps during my senior year of university, where I was majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics with a minor/certificate in Statistics and Data Science. Initially, I aimed for a career in public interest law and contemplated law school. However, after exploring coding classes, I discovered a passion for project-oriented work grounded in technical problem-solving. Despite this shift, I was reluctant to begin my career at a large, for-profit tech company. Having spent four years studying the interaction of technology, policy, and ethics, starting in a field unrelated to my studies felt like a major shift.

When the time came to apply for jobs, the U.S. Digital Corps seemed ideal. It aligned with my interests in high-impact, mission-driven work, combining it with my preference for technical tasks. Although I worried about being under-qualified due to not majoring in Data Science, I decided to apply, drawing on my internship experience and completion of a data science bootcamp. What captivated me was the human-centered approach of the application process, led by subject matter experts (SMEs) in data science rather than AI parsing tools.

Can you tell us a bit about the project you are currently working on? What is the impact you hope to have for the public?


I work at the Office of Head Start (OHS) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Head Start programs promote the school readiness of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low-income families, in settings including centers, family child care, and children’s own homes. My work at OHS covers a broad range of activities, from data requests to infrastructure modernization. Alongside developing tools like dashboards and data cleaning pipelines, I work closely with OHS staff to develop strategic plans around how the agency uses data. The data systems we’re developing (and improving!) are leading to better policies to support local Head Start programs across the country.


I’m a part of the Office of Enterprise Data and Analytics (OEDA) at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), specifically working within the Information Product and Analytics Group (IPAG). CMS provides health coverage to more than 160 million Americans through Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Health Insurance marketplace.

In a broad sense, our team has a multifaceted role. We create and distribute information products, such as public use data files, dashboards, and interactive analytics tools, along with generating statistical reports that cover various aspects of CMS programs. Another significant aspect of our work involves handling hundreds of data requests annually, addressing inquiries from Congress, federal and state agencies, and other CMS components.

Moreover, IPAG is dedicated to ensuring that CMS’s publicly available data is well-documented and easily accessible. In my current role, this involves responding to data requests related to transgender and women’s health statistics. Simultaneously, I’m working on automating validation processes for our CMS Program Statistics (CPS), which provide annual high-level summaries on Medicare populations. Through this project, my goal is to enhance the accessibility of healthcare data for the public and offer the most accurate insights into the performance of our services. Ultimately, I aim to provide policymakers, the public, and decision-makers with a clearer understanding of how to further enhance the equity and comprehensiveness of Medicare and Medicaid services for those in need.

What does a typical day look like for you on your team? What tools, practices do you use?


Typically, my day kicks off with a daily check-in call with fellow CMS data scientists using an agile project management tool. During this session, we discuss our daily goals and address any challenges we might be facing. This practice is particularly valuable for me as someone newer to the team as it enables me to save time by seeking assistance from individuals who may have encountered similar obstacles in the past.

Following this, I use my break time to brew my morning coffee and stretch outdoors before diving into my next meeting—a weekly check-in call with a larger project team I’m currently engaged with. Presently, I have weekly check-in calls with the Program Statistics team to assess our progress towards our yearly release files.

Next on the agenda is a working session with a teammate. We delve into tasks such as crafting queries for data requests or troubleshooting bugs within our code, typically using Python or SQL. Subsequently, I have a check-in call with someone from USDC, be it my Fellow Friend (mentor in the cohort above me), my data science coach, or another USDC fellow I may be collaborating with on a presentation.

For lunch, I take a break to prepare my meal and conclude the day with some unstructured work time. Currently, I’m focused on writing a script that automates certain aspects of our yearly data validation processes. Then, the final hours of my day are spent alternating between finalizing the script and responding to messages.

What’s one thing that you’ve learned or taken away so far as a Fellow or from your experience as a data scientist in government?


Contrary to stereotypes, I’ve learned that the government is composed of an eclectic and diverse mix of individuals who, regardless of age and tenure in government, are undeterred by the bureaucratic challenges that can be inherent in serving such a vast population. As a fellow, it’s been exhilarating to build a cross-generational community, connecting with individuals of various ages within both the USDC cohort and my CMS team. This experience has strengthened my trust in the individuals responsible for running our government services.

What would you tell data scientists who are contemplating applying to the Digital Corps?


If you’re looking for a place to do applied data science work with impact, I would recommend applying to USDC! There is a lot to learn and plenty of room to grow your contributions to the civic technology space in government.


Whether you’re a recent college graduate with data science expertise or an industry professional who has a few years of experience and has recently completed a postgraduate degree, if you have a passion for civic tech, a desire to be involved in an innovative hiring process, and are eager to contribute to a new wave of innovation in government tech, then USDC is the perfect fit for you. Take the plunge and apply!

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