The Age of the Chiefs

Government's chief officers have a whole new set of challenges.

President Obama is big on chiefs. Within his first 100 days in office, he had designated three to serve at the highest levels of his administration: Vivek Kundra as chief information officer, Aneesh Chopra as chief technology officer and Jeffrey Zients as chief performance officer.

That's no surprise, given that this is a president who took up the subject of management of federal programs in his inaugural address. "The question we ask today," he said back in January, "is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."

Of course, the designation of high-level chiefs is just the beginning. While they'll be responsible for setting the overall vision of how the government should operate, when it comes to translating that vision into workable programs and policies, the focus will be on chief officers at the department and agency level. We take up their challenges in this special issue of Government Executive.

In May, Obama began fleshing out his management agenda in his fiscal 2009 budget proposal. One big item on the to-do list is to "restore the prestige of public service," a task viewed as necessary to meeting the administration's goal of hiring several hundred thousand new federal employees to replace aging baby boomers and make sure agencies have the capacity to perform essential functions like contract administration.

Alex M. Parker reports in this issue that chief human capital officers will be on the hook for achieving that objective, making their job arguably more important than it's been since the CHCO position was created under the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, Katherine McIntire Peters notes that government's chief financial officers have a singular challenge of their own relating to a key Obama's initiative: managing the vast mountain of data that will emerge from myriad reporting requirements embedded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. And Robert Brodsky and Elizabeth Newell report that chief acquisition officers also will have a rather large list of action items related to implementing the economic stimulus package.

As if that wasn't enough to focus on, Obama found time in his first four months on the job to underscore the importance of information technology to his objectives with the Kundra and Chopra appointments, a commitment to transparency and openness, and a promise to appoint a White House cybersecurity czar. So as Andrew Noyes and Jill R. Aitoro detail in this issue, chief information officers and chief information security officers across the agencies also will have their hands full.

For years, the talk among the government's various chiefs has been about getting a "seat at the table." This year, the chiefs could be getting a different message in response: Be careful what you wish for.

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