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By Nick Wakeman

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Chertoff leaves his mark

When I go to industry events, I don't expect major news. My expectations are even lower when the speaker is a high-ranking official. They are generally too cautious or scripted to make news.

At a Thursday morning breakfast sponsored by the Northern Virginia Technology Council's "Titans of Technology," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave a talk that mostly reviewed DHS goals and philosophies. The speech was on target for an audience of technology industry executives. He spoke of partnerships and how technology is critical to DHS's mission. I took notes, but alas there was no real news there.

Then it happened. Chertoff announced a restructuring of how the department's chief information officer will operate and the increased authority he will have. A few of us at my table looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and said, "Now that's real news."

As Government Computer News Senior Writer Wilson Dizard explains in his story, Chertoff has given new powers to DHS CIO Scott Charbo, including approval of projects valued at more than $2.5 million. Charbo also will hire and set the pay levels for CIOs of all DHS components.

After Chertoff's speech, Charbo told me that the management directive isn't a substantial change. "We've been doing all these things already. This just formalizes it," he said.

But let's not downplay this as just a formality. What Chertoff has done is create a structure that will have a lasting impact on the way DHS manages its IT infrastructure. Maybe Charbo has been doing these things all along, but he's at least had to rely, in part, on his own charm and his good standing with Chertoff to get things done.

With this management directive, however, a structure is now in place that will out last Charbo and Chertoff. Whoever follows Charbo will be in a stronger position from the start. I know that good, qualified people have turned down CIO positions because they don't come with enough authority, only plenty of opportunity for blame. So Chertoff's management directive might make it easier to find a good candidate to replace Charbo when he decides to move on.

Chertoff also has pushed DHS ahead of other departments. As one company executive told me after the Titans breakfast, "You don't see this structure at Justice, Treasury or even the Defense Department."

While Chertoff has pushed major projects such as the Secure Border Initiative and the Transportation Workers Identification Credential, his most lasting legacy could be a new and empowered CIO's office.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 15, 2007 at 7:22 PM


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