Federal CIOs don't have the right stuff, officials say

Federal chief information officers are ill-equipped to move the government into the information age, a panel of lawmakers and ex-federal officials said Wednesday at a briefing on Capitol Hill. Reps. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., and Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined former Defense Department Deputy CIO Paul Brubaker and a panel of technology industry experts to push for the appointment of a federal CIO within the Office of Management and Budget. The officials argued that the federal CIO Council, which includes every major agency's CIO, is too weak to get agencies moving faster on electronic government efforts. "The CIO Council ... is a consensus body, and lacks authority" to implement necessary changes in technology management across all agencies, Brubaker said. But he added that the current leadership dilemma is not the fault of the council's members, saying "No office within the federal government has the personnel or the charter to lead in this area."

Jim Flyzik, the vice chair of the council and the CIO at the Treasury Department, said the council has accomplished a great deal so far with the consensus model, including the establishment of the FirstGov Web portal. However, the council is ultimately hampered by its inability to control financial resources, Flyzik said. "For the council to really have a degree of authority it would have to have a degree of control over resources," he observed. Brubaker expressed his concern that agency CIOs are not focusing on bringing their organizations into compliance with laws such as the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act that mandate the use of technology in management. "Laws are seen as compliance problems by top leadership, not as opportunities" to create change, and a top technology chief would help ensure that agencies were in line with reforms, he said. Brubaker was a key figure in crafting Clinger-Cohen, which created the position of CIO in each agency and tied IT to agency strategic planning decisions. It originally established a federal CIO, but that language was removed before final passage of the bill. Flyzik objected to Brubaker's characterization, saying "there is a significant difference in how CIOs have been empowered in different agencies." Brubaker added that government must find a way to offer services to citizens without requiring them to know the role of each office in each agency in each department. "The federal government is still focused on protecting jurisdictional turf. E-government is seamless, not jurisdiction-centric," he said. Brubaker said a federal CIO could lead agencies across those barriers "to propel government into the information age." David McClure, director of information technology management issues at the General Accounting Office, who worked closely with Brubaker on the crafting of Clinger-Cohen, said that CIOs can't be expected to shoulder all the weight of implementing the shift to e-government. Work must be done "in a partnership fashion with the other executive leaders in the agency," he said. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research issued a brief last February that urged the President not to create a federal CIO because organizational problems within the agencies are already too deep, and appointing an overseer wouldn't solve the problem at the individual CIO level. OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe said in March that the Bush administration is opposed to the creation of a separate office of CIO or setting up a new position. "It would focus the agenda on an individual that would [lead] others to view their responsibility as dismissed," he said. A bill (S. 803) sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., would designate an official within OMB as the federal CIO. Horn said the appointment of a CIO who has the ear of the President is critical to the future of e-government's success: "It will never go anywhere unless you get a small group [of officials] in OMB" that reports directly to the President or the White House chief of staff. Doggett, co-founder of the Congressional Information Technology Working Group, said that his constituents "clearly want an electronic government." He echoed the call for a technology chief to oversee its implementation. For its part, the CIO Council is split on the issue, say Flyzik and McClure. Flyzik noted that the division primarily lies between those who see the federal CIO as an effective means of implementing policy versus those who believe it will simply create another layer of bureaucracy. "It comes down to how the position would be empowered," Flyzik said. "If it's just a staff position with no authority or accountability ... it's not going to solve problems."

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