Lawmakers, Industry See Compromise on Federal CIO

Lawmakers, Industry See Compromise on Federal CIO

John Spotila

Paul Brubaker

Olga Grkavac

Former government officials working in the information technology industry are confident the federal government will gain a chief information officer this year, and legislators and the administration seem ready to compromise to make that happen.

"There is enough activity on the Hill that says something is going to happen this year. It's just a confluence of events and a matter of time," said Mark Forman, former senior majority staff member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. He is now vice president of e-business for the global public sector unit of Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa.

"It makes so much sense that I think we've got to be fairly close to getting a federal CIO," said Paul Brubaker, president of e-government solutions for Commerce One Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif. He recently left the Defense Department, where he was deputy chief information officer.

"I really could have used a top-level [IT] leader when I was in DoD," he said. "We didn't get adequate management support within the agency or within the budget shop to perform even the basic tasks."

A CIO could establish a governmentwide policy for application of information technology, industry officials said. Doing so would allow IT companies to bring cutting-edge technologies used in the private sector to all federal agencies.

"It would be a lot easier to do business with the government if there were a uniform set of rules and leadership at the top," Brubaker said. "In terms of the big pie, it might ultimately require less money spent on IT, but the kind of work you do would be more transformational."

The Bush administration has proposed that the deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget act as federal CIO.

Many industry officials say the CIO needs budget authority, and therefore should be within OMB, but they have advocated creating a new, high-level office for fear that the deputy director ? with broad responsibilities, including financial management, procurement and regulatory review ? would not pay sufficient attention to IT issues.

However, in a shift that could facilitate compromise, industry has moved away from this position.

"ITAA wanted the federal CIO as a separate office ... but if the right person is at [OMB], with the right resources, people would be satisfied with that," said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. The organization represents more than 500 technology companies.

Most importantly, the official needs to have sufficient authority to promote cross-agency electronic government initiatives, industry and government officials said.

No matter what the office is called or where it is placed, the person holding it "has to be someone who is a real leader, who has a vision and political clout, and who has a modest staff to provide the support that will make it effective," Brubaker said.

"I would hope the administration would [name a CIO]," he added. "If there isn't movement in that area, it's going to get imposed upon them by the Hill."

The Bush administration's proposed solution of giving responsibility for IT policy to the deputy director for management is the same approach taken by the Clinton administration. But like industry, the administration seems open to compromise.

"We expect to have someone who deals with those [IT] issues. We will staff it in a manner that gives it the prominence it deserves to get the job done right," said Christopher Ullman, OMB spokesman.

The Bush administration's plan could simply be a stop-gap measure until more appointed offices are filled, said John Spotila, chief operating officer of GTSI Corp. in Chantilly, Va.

Previously, Spotila was administrator of the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where he coordinated information policy for the Clinton administration.

"There could be a reluctance to change things before their whole team is on the field," Spotila said.

Spotila, who previously supported the idea of the deputy director for management as federal CIO, has changed his mind since leaving government.

"A year ago, it made sense to assign this role to the deputy director for management. Now that we are at the start of a new administration, with the benefit of more experience in dealing with [IT] issues, it makes sense to create a new position" reporting to the director of OMB, Spotila said.

"There is a benefit to naming a federal CIO to deal with these issues, but only if the new position resides at OMB at a senior level," he said.

Giving IT responsibilities to the deputy director for management is essentially saying a CIO isn't needed, he said.

Spotila advocates creating a fourth statutory office within OMB. Currently three offices at the agency are headed by Senate-confirmed political appointees: the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the Office of Federal Financial Management.

Creating a fourth statutory office would enable the administration to recruit an IT expert who could work closely with the deputy director for management and the director of OMB and Congress, Spotila said.

"It would fit the OMB culture in a positive way and still be a significant upgrade" in handling IT policy in the federal government, Spotila said.

As the debate continues, legislators are pushing forward with their own CIO initiatives, while also indicating they are willing to compromise.

"The view of many in the House and the Senate who have examined this issue is that the executive branch needs an official dedicated to information policy," said Kevin Landy, counsel to the Democratic staff of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which is led by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

Lieberman this month introduced the E-Government Act of 2001, which would establish a federal CIO position within the Office of Management and Budget.

Although Landy questioned the benefits of providing the deputy director for management with the additional title of CIO without more substantive changes, he said: "We don't want to put ourselves in an adversarial position with the administration. Sen. Lieberman is very interested in searching for a consensus on this issue and wants to hear what the administration has to say."

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who also is talking with the administration about the issue, within a month will likely introduce a CIO bill, according to spokesman David Marin.

Davis also is willing to compromise, Marin said. In a bill he introduced last summer, Davis had proposed placing the CIO outside OMB to remove it from the office's historical emphasis on budget at the expense of management issues, Marin said.

Davis, however, is a pragmatist.

"He knows he needs the support of the administration and Congress. He's not wedded to a CIO outside OMB, but he is wedded to making sure we create a position that centralizes and focuses IT management across government," Marin said.

Under the administration's plan, the CIO would "play a significant role in determining allocations" from President Bush's new five-year, $100 million e-government fund, Ullman said.

That's an approach Renato DiPentima could like. DiPentima, president of consulting and systems integration at SRA International Inc. in Fairfax, Va., has recommended against a federal CIO for fear it could undermine procurement reform by centralizing authority over IT spending.

"That isn't the way things should work in this day and age," said DiPentima, who was formerly deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration and chairman of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Improvement team.

However, DiPentima does think a CIO could be effective as a government venture capitalist, laying out a strategy and doling out funds to advance government initiatives in areas such as information security.

ITAA will continue its push for a federal CIO, Grkavac said.

"We'd be disappointed, but already we're sensing some very dynamic leadership at OMB, and they are going to move forward," she said. "It's just a question of how we reach the end goal [of e-government]. We think a federal CIO will help us get there sooner."

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