Does DHS need a chief manager?

Lawmakers would like a CMO to provide long-term management continuity at DHS

A chief management officer might soon become the newest member of the Homeland Security Department’s executive team, despite the reservations of department officials.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and his Democratic colleagues on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee think a CMO is critical to improving DHS’ program management. The committee approved Aug. 1 Voinovich’s Homeland Security Management Act of 2007, which would upgrade the position of undersecretary for management at DHS to deputy secretary for management. The bill would effectively create a CMO position with a renewable five-year term. Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) co-sponsored the bill.

However, DHS officials don’t think they need a CMO. “The department has taken the position that we don’t need that, that we already have that in our undersecretary for management,” Marta Perez, DHS’ chief human capital officer, told Federal Computer Week. “I don’t think there’s a need to have just the one titled individual. There’s a need to have lots of individuals who are very committed to management and management reform, and we have that at the department.”

But, she added, “I know that Sen. Voinovich has his heart in the right place because he’s very committed to our success.”

Voinovich said he is convinced that the department’s existing management structure is “insufficient and is hampering its ability to be successful.” Creating a CMO who would be the No. 3 ranked official at DHS would provide expertise necessary for improving the department’s long-term efficiency, he said.

Comptroller General David Walker, who leads the Government Accountability Office, also endorsed the CMO concept. DHS’ transformation efforts remain on GAO’s high-risk list of programs susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Elevating the management position at DHS to a deputy secretary level would “institutionalize the position in a way that would help to improve its effectiveness and increase the likelihood that we could achieve and sustain a successful business transformation within the department,” Walker said.

He added there’s a good chance the bill will become law. There’s a growing concern about the need to make more progress on business transformation at DHS and other departments, he said.

For years, Walker has recommended legislation that would create a CMO at the Defense Department. DOD’s business transformation program is on GAO’s high-risk list. A CMO would ensure sustained leadership for DOD’s business transformation efforts, he said.

Less consensus exists on whether creating a CMO position at other departments and agencies would improve management. Some experts say the CMO concept would be most useful at DHS and DOD.

“The DHS bill is really an application of [the CMO concept] to a department that has chronic, serious problems that haven’t evidenced any real progress in a couple of years now,” said Jonathan Breul, executive director at the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Breul is a former senior adviser to the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Scott Cameron, director of enterprise management solutions at consulting firm Grant Thornton, said agencies must have a top-level executive in a management role, regardless of that person’s title.

“It’s definitely important to have somebody at the right hand of the secretary who has the clout to coordinate and direct all the management functions,” Cameron said. He is a former deputy assistant secretary for performance, accountability and human resources at the Interior Department. He added, however, that it might not be practical to span administra
ions with a Senate-confirmed position, as Voinovich’s bill would do.

“The downside is that those jobs are by definition political, and it’s only fair that [a newly elected
resident have] the option of putting his or her own Senate-confirmed people in those positions,” Cameron said. “There’s almost an unavoidable conflict there.”

Walker said he was less concerned about having a political appointee as CMO. “You’re really looking to provide continuity within and between administrations,” he said. “While it might be a political appointment, it’s essentially a professional and operational position, not a policy position.”

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