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."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.