Old Hat

C-title executives have gained real clout. They'll need it.

In the long history of the federal bureaucracy, the concept of C-title executives in various disciplines qualifies as a recent innovation.

Their statutory existence can be traced to the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act, which mandated the appointment of top finance officials at key agencies. Six years later, the Clinger-Cohen Act did the same thing for chief information officers. In short order, other disciplines followed, such as the human capital, acquisition and information security officers highlighted-along with the CFOs and CIOs-in this special issue.

By now, though, the chiefs have been around long enough to have gone through some growing pains and emerged as leaders with, on the whole, a fair amount of clout. Even chief human capital officers-only four years old as an official entity-believe they have a seat at the table among their agencies' top leaders, Brittany Ballenstedt and Alyssa Rosenberg report.

The C-title folks who are political appointees will make their exit when the Bush administration departs in January. For them, it's all about building a legacy and leaving a team in place that can ensure a smooth transition to the new bosses-who may have a very different set of priorities than the current leadership. The career chiefs, on the other hand, will need to help manage the transition and make sure that the new political bosses can begin to make their mark immediately.

The chiefs also will be responsible for continuing to make progress on a series of management problems that have vexed agencies for years, if not decades:

  • Chief human capital officers must oversee a long, slow, widely varied effort across multiple agencies to implement new forms of pay-for-performance systems.
  • Chief financial officers - especially those at key departments such as Homeland Security and Defense-must build on recent successes to develop truly effective finance and accounting systems.
  • Chief acquisition officers must address critical skills gaps as seasoned contracting employees reach the end of their careers at a time when procurement spending is booming.
  • Chief information officers need to continue their transformation from operational officers to strategic partners of agency leaders.
  • Chief information security officers must face a scary new world in which the number and sophistication of cyberattacks is increasing literally every day.

Individuals who hold C-titles- or will assume them in the new administration-better hope they get clear marching orders and even more clout than their predecessors. They're going to need it.

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