USGS Data Management

blank space
Plan > Data Stewardship: Roles and Responsibilities
U.S. Geological Survey Data Lifecycle Diagram Plan Acquire Process Analyze Preserve Publish/Share Manage Quality Describe (Metadata, Documentation) Backup & Secure The USGS Science Data Lifecycle
U.S. Geological Survey Data Lifecycle Diagram

Data Stewardship: Roles and Responsibilities

Data management is a crucial foundation of your professional work. The data you collect and analyze are a national resource. They are not just your data or my data, they are USGS data - paid for by taxpayers' money - that are being used to make all types of management decisions, many of which have substantial economic and even health and safety consequences. All data are "corporate data" but it can be appropriate for certain data to be maintained and kept at lower levels of the organization. You must evaluate their role in your job and how well you manage your data in your everyday work.

What is a Data Steward?

Key Points

  • USGS needs good data stewardship at all levels of the organization
  • Data stewards ensure official agency records requirements are met, and data documentation is developed and maintained.
  • Data stewards create data standards, establish data access security requirements, and are active in all levels of data management.
  • Project managers and field supervisors appoint data stewards and determine what data will be maintained.
  • Project managers ensure adherence to USGS requirements, and that resources are available for data management.
  • Specialists are GIS specialists, resource specialists, database/system administrators.
  • Specialists work with data stewards, implement data standards, create metadata, and manage databases.
  • ALL are responsible for the integrity and quality of the data.

A Data Steward is one who manages another's facts or information to ensure that they can be used to draw conclusions or make decisions. Data Stewards are "keepers of the flame" in terms of data quality. They are responsible as stewards to serve and protect the customers' needs or assets (consider an airline steward or a trustee).

Stewardship equals taking responsibility for a set of data for the well being of the larger organization, and operating in service to, rather than in control of, those around us.

Data stewardship is primarily the job of the professionals who create and maintain data. Although they have significant support roles to play, stewardship cannot simply be delegated to the IT or GIS shops.

For example, for a spatially-enabled dataset, the GIS person may be responsible for maintaining the data but the decision on what information to collect and what format to keep it in belong to the "ologists" and business area leads they are working with.

USGS cannot accomplish data management without people taking on the roles of data stewardship at all levels of the organization. We are looking for people to embrace those data steward roles and responsibilities. People with knowledge about the business needs of the organization are necessary at all levels to define and manage data content and quality to ensure that the data collected and maintained meet those business needs.

Data Steward Roles and Responsibilities

Many of the responsibilities of Data Stewards are the same, regardless of where the person falls within the organization.

  • Be accountable for integrity and quality of data personally created/updated.
    • Data stewards are responsible for establishing requirements and assessing the quality of the data in a database or a portion of a database used to make any official decision.
    • Data quality means fitness for intended use.
  • Create data standards and business rules. Follow formal established process.
    • Data stewards are responsible for leading or supporting the data standards efforts. These efforts should follow the DOI/USGS process and include all documentation.
  • Ensure that information meets customer needs.
    • Can the data be relied on to be correct?
    • Are they in a format that is readable and understandable?
    • Is there current documentation on the data such as when they were collected, where, how, by whom, and under what conditions?
  • Data Access:

    Data access rules relate to both internal and external access. As a data steward you are required to take into consideration things like FOIA, Privacy Act, and IT Security Issues that could impact your data. Data Stewards should assess their data early in the data collection process to determine if anything they are collecting is sensitive and might be restricted from access either inside or outside the organization.

    Data Stewards should coordinate with Privacy, FOIA and IT Security officials in their local or state organizations.

  • Establish data access security requirements.
  • Ensure official agency records requirements are being met.
    • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) rules regulate the disposal of all types of records, including alphanumeric and spatial datasets.
    • Always involve your Records Manager/Administrator early in the data collection planning process.
  • Ensure data documentation is developed and maintained including FGDC metadata.
    • Metadata, which is defined as "data about data" describes the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of data.
    • Metadata is to be collected from the beginning of the data collection process for both alphanumeric and spatial data.
    • [see Describe > Metadata for more information]
  • Participate in the data management team for your geographic area (national, state, local).
    • Data management is going on all around you. Teamwork is very important to assure that duplicate data are not being collected. When you determine a need to collect data for a project, proposal, or decision in your area, work with the team to identify existing data stores or data collection parameters.
    • Employees who have roles and responsibilities for data management need to work together.
  • Be active advocates of data management.
    • Endorse good data management practices, use them, and share them.

Knowledge/Skills & Abilities Required:

  • Knowledge of basic data management principles and concepts
  • Knowledge of how to create data standards, determine business data requirements, and business rules

Management Responsibilities

Management includes Project Managers and Field Supervisors. Management responsibilities include:

  • Ensure resources are available for data management activities for their respective program areas.
  • Determine what data will be maintained, consistent with the objectives of the USGS.
  • Appoint and support data stewards for their areas of responsibility.
  • Be accountable for all aspects of data within their program or geographic area. Includes responsibility for quality, accessibility, completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and standards.
  • Be accountable for integrity and quality of business data personally created/updated.
  • Provide oversight during development of projects to ensure the data needs and requirements are documented.
  • Ensure adherence to Bureau requirements for metadata and data standards. [see Describe > Metadata and Plan > Data Standards for more information]

Specialist Responsibilities

Specialists include GIS Specialists, Resource Specialists, and Database/System Administrators. Specialist responsibilities include:

  • Be aware of resource data requirements, standards, access rules, and training.
  • Work with data stewards to interpret business needs into applications and derive data requirements.
  • Implement State/Bureau data standards; and may participate in the development of standards. [see Plan > Data Standards for more information]
  • Facilitate educational opportunities for the treatment, application, and value of spatial data.
  • Create and maintain metadata to quality specifications. [see Describe > Metadata for more information]
  • Provide consistent interpretation and application of Bureau/State policies to their respective State Offices.
  • Manage databases containing spatial data.
  • Be accountable for integrity and quality of business data personally created/updated.


  • Chatfield, T., Selbach, R. February, 2011. Data Management for Data Stewards. Data Management Training Workshop. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).