DHS boosts power of chief information officer

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's decision this week to boost the authority of the agency's chief information officer is winning praise from observers of the federal information technology scene, although some called it overdue and inadequate.

Chertoff announced the move Thursday in a speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council. He said DHS needs to have a strong information officer empowered to make decisions, control spending and ensure consistency throughout the department, which was cobbled together from 22 separate agencies in March 2003.

Chertoff said that by elevating Scott Charbo, who has served as the department's CIO since 2005, DHS will be at the forefront of fulfilling the requirements of the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which established the CIO role in major federal agencies. DHS' annual technology expenditures total nearly $6 billion.

Under the new mandate, each DHS component is required to submit its IT budget to the CIO, who will make recommendations for final inclusion in the department's overall budget request. All IT acquisitions larger than $2.5 million will have to first be approved by the department's Enterprise Architecture Board and submitted to the CIO for approval.

Charbo will approve the hiring of CIOs at agencies within the department and will set and approve their job performance plans, ratings and annual award compensation.

"In a department of our size and complexity, and particularly in a department built from a lot of legacy agencies, this unification and strengthening of core management will not be easy," Chertoff said. "Some of the components will not be used to this level of centralized coordination, particularly as it relates to IT systems."

The DHS inspector general has long lobbied for strengthening the department's chief information officer. In a January 2006 audit, IG Richard Skinner said the CIO lacked the authority and influence necessary to integrate the department's information technology systems. Despite federal law, the CIO was not a member of the senior management team and lacked the power to strategically manage departmentwide technology programs and assets, the report stated.

But DHS officials had argued that elevating the position was unnecessary. In a response to the IG, department officials wrote that Charbo believed his office is "properly positioned and has the authority it needs to accomplish its mission."

Former DHS Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin said the new directive is a belated step in the right direction. But, he said, Chertoff should have given Charbo full authority to hire and fire technology officials and control budgets at DHS component agencies.

Randy Hite, the Government Accountability Office's director of information technology architecture and systems, said the move is consistent with GAO's recommendations in this area.

"Our research of organizations that have successfully leveraged IT for organizational transformation shows that an empowered CIO with a seat at the executive table is one essential ingredient for success," Hite said.

Successful industry and government organizations are starting to recognize that CIOs need to be an integral part of the leadership team and be viewed as a "change leader," said David Wennergren, deputy Defense CIO and vice chairman of the CIO Council.

"By strengthening the role of the CIO to not just be the IT infrastructure expert but to also be the champion for portfolio management, process improvement and information sharing, transformation efforts are able to be rapidly accelerated," Wennergren said. "Federal agencies like DHS are recognizing the crucial role CIOs need to pay in aligning the activities of the enterprise and ensuring that resources are used effectively and efficiently."

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:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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