Y2K, security are priorities, CIOs say

ksaldarini@govexec.com

Federal Chief Information Officers cited Y2K readiness as their number one priority in 1999, but computer security looms as the government's biggest challenge after Y2K, a survey released Tuesday reported.

The Information Technology Association of America's (ITAA) ninth annual survey canvassed 25 federal CIOs on current and impending IT issues.

Contrary to worrisome reports from the General Accounting Office, CIOs at most federal agencies were optimistic about their Y2K readiness, the survey said. Most agencies "feel positive about code modification, but are concerned about their trading partners' readiness," said Paul Wohlleben, director of information technology at Grant Thornton LLP, the firm that administered the survey. Federal agencies that do business overseas were particularly concerned about data exchanges with foreign governments and private firms.

Y2K concerns went beyond the end of this year. Many CIOs said they were worried about technology improvements that are on hold while the Y2K crisis is worked out. They anticipate that Y2K's demand for IT money and staff will continue beyond Jan. 1, 2000.

Another reason CIOs won't be breathing easy after Y2K, the survey said, is because security issues need to be resolved. "A lot of people consider critical infrastructure protection the next Y2K," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the enterprise solutions division at ITAA. The global interconnectedness of computer networks presents government programs with new vulnerabilities, the survey said. Technical threats aren't the only problems. According to federal CIOs, getting senior management to recognize the threat will be a major challenge as well.

Other top-of-mind issues CIOs discussed in the survey include:

  • IT workforce retention
    "CIOs felt some form of pay differentiation was needed for federal IT professionals," Wohlleben said. Retaining IT staff past the five-year point is the biggest workforce challenge, the CIOs reported. More training and challenging assignments are two factors that help some federal agencies compete with the private sector, they said. Still, private sector salaries and incentives such as signing bonuses undercut government's ability to retain young IT talent.
  • Outsourcing
    The ITAA suvey reported a near unanimous conclusion that outsourcing will keep growing. The average federal CIO contracts out 60-80 percent of IT resources, Wohlleben said. Procurement reform will affect outsourcing as greater flexibility in partnering with industry is allowed. However, seat management, a form of outsourcing equivalent to leasing desktop IT services, was unpopular with most CIOs. Most CIOs are "uncomfortable with seat management," Wohlleben said, because "it's risky," adding "there's not a lot of reward for risk in the federal workplace." The A-76 process, which agencies use to decide whether to contract out services, was also unpopular with the CIOs. A-76 was viewed as largely ineffective. "There will be a lot more outsourcing, but A-76 might not be the way," one anonymous CIO said.
  • Electronic Commerce
    While CIOs reported interest in e-commerce, a focus on Y2K has prevented growth in that area. Potential uses for e-commerce include grants, licensing and certification, electronic forms, export bidding and electronic filings, the survey said.
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