A Fed CIO? The Opinions Abound...

A Fed CIO? The Opinions Abound...

Renato DiPentima

By Nick Wakeman, Staff Writer

A recommendation that a chief information officer should be appointed for all the federal government has garnered a mixed reaction from government and industry officials, with some supporting the idea and others scratching their heads and wondering why.

But nearly all officials agreed that if such a position were created, the role of a federal CIO should be narrowly focused and that the position be accompanied by a budget.

The concept of a national CIO was floated in late March by the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank attached to the Democratic Leadership Council and supported by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, as a way of promoting electronic government initiatives.

The Progressive Policy Institute also recommends that $500 million in additional funding be made available for cross-agency electronic government projects.

The idea of a federal CIO is hardly new. When procurement reform initiatives were being debated in the mid-1990s, the creation of a "CIO of CIOs" was discussed but rejected, said Renato "Renny" DiPentima, president of the government sector at SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va. DiPentima also is the former deputy
commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration.

One of the concerns at the time was that creating a governmentwide CIO also would create another layer of bureaucracy and slow down procurement reform efforts, he said.

The Office of Management and Budget also weighed in against the idea and still opposes the concept, industry sources said. OMB officials, however, would not comment for this story.

With technology advancing rapidly and the Internet expected to have a major impact on the way government operates, a governmentwide CIO can play a vital role, said Stephen Rohleder, managing partner for the government practice at Andersen Consulting of Chicago.

  "If done properly, this position will look across the government and help aggregate government services and help improve the services delivered to citizens," Rohleder said.

  A specific role for a government-wide CIO would be necessary, "otherwise it is just too much to handle," said Joe Leo, CIO for the Agriculture Department.

Interest in a governmentwide
CIO has increased in recent
months because of the success that agency CIOs and the CIO Council had in eradicating the year 2000 date code problem, said Alan Balutis, deputy CIO at the Commerce Department. The CIO Council is comprised of CIOs from various agencies and is a mechanism for sharing information on IT policies and best practices.

"I haven't formed an opinion
yet," Balutis said. "I can see some advantages, but this really is an important issue and should be discussed fully."

Governments in other countries, such as Singapore, are ahead of the United States in how they have used the Internet to provide better services to citizens, Rohleder said.

There is a risk that creating a governmentwide CIO would forge a position with no real authority, "an ambassador without a portfolio," said Chuck Lockard, president of IT Direct Inc. of Reston, Va., and a co-founder of e-Gov, which produces conferences, trade shows and publications on electronic government.

CIOs at individual agencies still struggle to free budget dollars within their own agencies for IT initiatives, so a governmentwide CIO could have an even harder time at an interagency level, Lockard said.

"The real money is down at the program level, and no one is going to give up their money," he said.

A governmentwide CIO would require budget authority, "otherwise the position will be toothless," Rohleder agreed.

If a governmentwide CIO is created, the person in that position should be charged with a specific duty, such as creating a government portal to supply services to the citizen, said William Woodard, president of the Government Solutions Group of Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas.

"Otherwise the idea of a govern-mentwide CIO is just ridiculous," Woodard said.

Creating a governmentwide CIO raises several questions, DiPentima said, including:

?Would agency CIOs report to the governmentwide CIO?

?What kind of authority would the federal CIO czar have?

?How would the position differ from what is already in place, such as the CIO Council and OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy?

"What you really have to ask is what is the exact problem you are trying to resolve," DiPentima said. It is difficult to imagine agency heads supporting a concept where one of their underlings actually answers to someone else, he said.

One possible benefit of having a CIO czar is that the person could be a focal point for winning political support and getting more IT funding for the agencies, Lockard said.

Instituting a governmentwide CIO was not the Progressive Policy Institute's only recommendation. It also touted several "principles" for implementing an electronic or digital government. Among them were:

?Think customer, not government agency;

?Invest now to save tomorrow;

?Share the savings from electronic transactions with citizens;

?Respect privacy;

?Learn from mistakes.

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