Johnson Seeks Data Scientist to Run a U.K. Government Analysis Unit

Boris Johnson’s team are continuing their efforts to shake up the British establishment, with plans for a “skunkworks” unit of data scientists to change the way government decisions are made.

The prime minister’s office is advertising for someone to head its new analytical unit, to be called “10: Data Science” or “10ds.” According to the job description, “the vision of 10ds is a skunkworks type organization.”

This is a reference to Lockheed Martin Corp.’s top-secret development unit, which operated free from the company’s bureaucracy to produce famous airplanes including the U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird.

Johnson’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings, has long been fascinated by both big data and U.S. military research projects. In January, he invited “weirdos and misfits” to work with him, telling them to send their resumes to a Gmail address. This job, which pays up to 135,000 pounds ($170,000) a year, is being recruited through the usual civil service process, but after that, it’s clearly intended to be unconventional.

A 2019 Cummings blog post gives a hint of his thinking.

“Successes since the 1960s,” he wrote, “have often been freaks” or else “‘black’ projects (e.g stealth) and often conducted in skunkworks-style operations outside normal laws.”

The job listing doesn’t go that far. “The current plan is to establish a data engineering team, data science team, a skunkworks and an analytical deep dive unit,” it reads. The goal: “to allow the prime minister to make data driven decisions and thereby transform government.”

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