Federal CIOs Plan an IT Earful For the Next President

Federal CIOs Plan an IT Earful For the Next President

James Flyzik

By Nick Wakeman, Staff Writer

The Chief Information Officers Council wants to give the next president, whether it's Democrat Al Gore or Republican George W. Bush, some advice on the state of government information technology.

Over the summer, the council, which is comprised of CIOs from the federal agencies, will prepare what it is calling a "transition report" to bring the new administration and new members of Congress up to speed on a range of IT issues.

The government is facing serious challenges, including a shortage of IT workers, tight budgets and difficulties in implementing electronic government services, said James Flyzik, CIO of the Treasury Department and vice chair of the council.

CIOs will play a growing role in addressing these kinds of issues, but to be effective they need more budget authority, he said.

"If you make CIOs responsible, you have to give them real authority," he said at a May 31 breakfast sponsored by the Bethesda, Md., chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

If the government implements real electronic services, it must address how to get agencies to work together, Flyzik said, noting, for example, that an estimated 40 to 60 agencies and bureaus work with the international trade community.

"We have to figure out a way to work on intergovernmental processes," he said. The transition report will set out the CIOs' view of these issues and discuss recommendations on how the next president should address them, he said.

"Both presidential contenders have senior technology advisers, and we just want to be part of that discussion and debate," said Alan Balutis, director of the Advanced Technology Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and a CIO Council member. Balutis is the former deputy CIO at the Commerce Department.

The role of the CIO in government has evolved from being a technical consultant to more of a strategic planner, Flyzik said. "The CIO's job is evolving into a peer relationship with top executives at the agencies," he said.

The issues covered in the report likely will follow a pattern set by the working groups of the CIO Council, Balutis said.

The CIO Council is organized around six committees covering capital planning and IT management, IT work force, enterprise interoperability and emerging IT, outreach, security, privacy and critical infrastructure, and electronic government.

"I think those are the issues the plan will be built around," Balutis said.

But special attention likely will go to the government IT work-force issue, because about 50 percent of all federal government workers are eligible to retire over the next three or four years, he said.

The transition plan will aim both to bring the new administration and new members of Congress up to speed on the issues and explain the options available, Balutis said.

The CIO Council also will be working with the Chief Financial Officers and Procurement Officers councils and the Office of Management and Budget to shape the report, Balutis said.

The plan won't just point out problems, Balutis said. "We want to highlight the promise and potential of technology," he said.

The CIO Council played an important role in managing the year 2000 date code problem, and the credibility earned from that should give the CIOs some clout with the incoming administration, said Renato DiPentima, president of the government sector for SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va., and former CIO of the Social Security Administration.

"Y2K elevated CIOs to an important position in the agencies," he said. "Everything is IT-centric."

Balutis agreed, adding that the private sector's use of technology also has put pressure on the government to improve services. "The federal government is still too much of a 9-to-5, paper-intensive operation," he said.

The CIOs likely will have a receptive audience no matter who wins the election, given the high priority candidates have placed on electronic government.

"The standard stump speeches from both candidates are making liberal use of the term 'e-government,' " DiPentima said.

Indeed, Vice President Gore June 5 presented a plan that called for putting nearly all government services online, creating what he called a national interactive town square and "G-Bay," a site for auctioning surplus government items. Gore also said every American should have a "digital key" to provide secure access to government information and services.

Texas Gov. Bush is formulating his plan, said spokesman Ray Sullivan. "[Bush] is very interested in making government more accessible and simpler to interact with and use," Sullivan said.

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