Prospect of Federal CIO Still Lingers In the Wings

Prospect of Federal CIO Still Lingers In the Wings

President George W. Bush

By Patience Wait, Staff Writer

President George W. Bush is on track to fulfill a campaign pledge to create a federal chief information officer, but has yet to indicate how much authority the governmentwide CIO will be given.

White House spokesman Jimmy Orr said Jan. 29 that Bush intends to place the federal CIO within the Office of Management and Budget, and that the CIO's role would be to address "improving e-government and protecting the privacy of citizens in that government."

During his campaign, Bush stated he planned to designate the deputy director of management at OMB as the federal CIO, but Orr declined to comment on what scope of authority the position would have or when an appointment would be announced.

The federal government does not have a CIO that coordinates and guides the agencies' IT projects and policies. The CIO Council, which is made up of the CIOs and their deputies from major federal departments and agencies, can make recommendations on issues such as technology standards and interagency projects. The council has no authority to require coordination.

Supporters of a governmentwide CIO believe the office would provide much-needed focus on standards, eliminate duplication of effort and promote the sharing of successful projects among agencies.

Congress, too, may get involved. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., last year introduced legislation to create a separate Office of Information Policy, with a CIO at its head, and an Office of Information Security and Technical Protection within its responsibilities.

Sens. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman and ranking minority member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively, have expressed support for the concept in the past.

As it appears increasingly likely that Bush will move to appoint a federal CIO, the discussion now centers on issues the CIO would address and on the scope of power the office would require.

"We think it should be a very senior person, in fact, in the White House," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, Arlington, Va., an organization representing more than 26,000 IT companies.

The CIO should be someone who can provide a view of the big picture along with guidance and information to the president and Congress as needed, he said.

When John Koskinen was named chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion to coordinate governmentwide efforts on Y2K, he remained outside the existing bureaucratic structure. Miller sees that approach as a worthwhile model.

He opposes making the federal CIO a deputy director's position within OMB, arguing the job has to include the ability to deal as an equal with cabinet secretaries.

"That's my argument against putting it in OMB," Miller said. "Koskinen had that authority, [though] he used it very judiciously."

Alan Balutis did not originally support the idea of a federal CIO. Balutis, who most recently served as deputy CIO at the Commerce Department and director of its Advanced Technology Program, said he first thought it should be in OMB and linked to other responsibilities.

But as the federal government has begun making progress on some of its e-government initiatives, Balutis said he now supports a high-level advocate who can help bring about dramatic change. However, placing it inside OMB makes the job description too broad to be effective.

Balutis, who is leaving the government to become executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils and its Industry Advisory Council, said the position could be structured a number of ways.

The job could be mostly a bully pulpit, the way that Koskinen worked on the Y2K challenge. Or it could be more of a business model, with the person "having dotted-line authority over other [agency] CIOs and ... a substantial say on the $40 billion to $50 billion we spend on IT each year," Balutis said.

Jim Flyzik, the deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department for information systems and its CIO, said the CIO Council believes there is a need for better coordination of interagency and intergovernmental programs.

"We need some type of central authority to coordinate these programs. It could be in the form of an individual, the CIO Council itself, or it could be a more empowered [position] at OMB," Flyzik said. "The key thing is [that there be] someone who understands the application of technology to the business of government."

It also is important that the position have some control over funding, either portions of the various agencies' budgets or money separately authorized, to pay for interagency technology pro-
grams, Flyzik said.

"To really make a difference in improving government services, we need to do these intergovernmental programs, and to do them, we have to have funding mechanisms that are efficient," he said.

George Molaski, former CIO of the Transportation Department, said the new administration has "a tremendous opportunity to build upon what the CIO Council has started to develop ... ensuring there's interoperability, eliminating a tremendous amount of duplication and sharing of a lot of accomplishments to make them more effective."

One person who isn't sure there is much to be gained from creating a federal CIO is Steve Kelman, a professor of public management at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

"On balance, it would probably be a mild positive, but I think that, in most instances, the solutions to government IT problems need to take place much closer to the working level than a federal CIO would provide," Kelman said.

"There's at least a risk that the central CIO could be a crutch," he said, "that agencies will think they don't have to do the hard work themselves."

Chris Caine offered a similar view. Caine, vice president for governmental programs with IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., supports creating a CIO, but said, "It's a mistake for people to think that by having a federal CIO, we're actually going to make progress from an industrial-age government to an electronic-age government."

The bulk of change must occur within individual agencies, he said.

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