Behind the scenes, C-title executives run the show.

Behind the scenes, C-title executives run the show.

As our cover connotes, this issue is about the people who pull the strings behind the scenes in departments and agencies. The chiefs of finance, information, information security, human capital and acquisition aren't as widely known as Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. They often aren't quoted in the media-outside of Government Executive, that is. They don't head up large, well-known organizations such as the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Service, Social Security Administration or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But they set policies for and run the backbone services that make or break government.

Chief human capital officers orchestrate the hiring and management of employees with the right skills to get astronauts to the moon and Mars, rescue and reconstruct during and after disasters, move supplies to soldiers in Iraq, build the most powerful and complex computer systems in the world, collect more than $2 trillion in taxes annually, prevent an unknown number of terrorist acts each year, and more.

Chief information officers surf the rapids of technological change, steady the rudder when firewalls are breached or data is lost, and keep watch for innovations that will enhance agency operations. Along with chief information security officers, they keep watch to secure networks and to sound the alarm so the crew stays alert and ready to repel attackers.

Chief finance officers work their magic on agencies' books, cleaning, ordering and taming huge flows of funds into and out of some of the biggest "businesses" in America. Their yea or nay can open or close the spigot on investments in gigantic IT projects, added services, new organizations and other big purchases. They have brought down improper payments by federal entities by $8.8 billion since 2004 and found and disposed of $4.5 billion in excess property in the past two years.

Chief acquisition officers oversee purchases of goods and services that totaled $425 billion in 2006. CAOs set policies to guide that massive buying effort and to buttress and develop the staff of experts who handle procurements. Acquisition chiefs are especially focused on rebuilding the buying corps after it was gutted in the 1990s. They point to short staffing as the root of many, even most, procurement scandals and improprieties cropping up so regularly in recent years. The value of purchases has doubled or more at many agencies, while the acquisition workforce has flat-lined.

The chiefs are wizards, guardians, gatekeepers, conductors and navigators as our terrific artist, Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio, has rendered them. But more than that, they are the masters of an increasingly complicated and interconnected set of crucial services. Through this directory, our chief-focused breakfast series and our ongoing coverage, we remain dedicated to illuminating their challenges and achievements.