Federal CIOs are key to Obama's change agenda

President Obama's technology-focused policies stand to infuse chief information officers with more authority and influence.

Editor's note: This article is from the June 15 special issue of Government Executive, "Racing To Innovate," which addresses the challenges facing federal chief information officers.

When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stepped up to the podium in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for the first time, just two days after President Obama's historic inauguration, a hungry White House press corps had much to ask. The war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay detainees, and Cabinet appointments were the usual topics Gibbs could expect reporters to bring up. But the story that made headlines days, weeks and even months later began when Gibbs uttered five little words: "The president has a BlackBerry."

The super-secure handheld device engineered by the National Security Agency that Obama uses to communicate with his wife and top aides quickly became the symbol of his intent to use information technology to drive policy and change in government. It's also a sign that the influence of chief information officers is on the rise, much like the president's "Day One" transparency memos instructing his administration to operate under principles of openness and to spur citizen engagement online, and the use of technology to provide details on pressing topics such as his stimulus package and swine flu. "IT is vital to bringing about the change he is calling for," says Vivek Kundra, whom Obama appointed in March as the first federal chief information officer. "The role of the CIO is central to the agenda."

Kundra, whose title includes e-government and IT administrator at the Office of Management and Budget, plans to work closely with his colleagues through the interagency Chief Information Officers Council. He's already created a panel to explore how government can embrace cloud computing and other innovations. "It's vital they have a high degree of engagement from the business perspective and also from the technology side of the house," he says. "This will be very important, especially when we look at the performance agenda of this administration how IT maps to that."

In the June 15 issue of Government Executive, Andrew Noyes explores the growing authority and influence chief information officers. Click here to read the full story.