Whither the CIO?

WHITHER THE CIO? Fifteen years after the Clinger-Cohen Act directed agencies to designate or hire CIOs, people are asking yet again whether that provision of the law has ever fulfilled its potential — or whether it's time to update the law to give CIOs more authority.

The question has come up periodically over the years, especially early on when many CIOs found themselves left out of the decision-making process at their agencies. That situation has improved, at least at some agencies, but the question remains.

The Obama administration raised it late last year with the release of its 25-point plan to reform IT management. One of the plan's goals is to strengthen CIOs so that they can provide better oversight of large IT programs. But what would it take to re-energize the CIO?

Reporter Alyah Khan put the question to CIOs past and present, focusing on key issues that come up in every CIO discussion: Should CIOs be political appointees or career feds? Does Clinger-Cohen need to be updated or would policy changes suffice? And is budget authority a must-have? Not to ruin the suspense, but the answer to the last question is a resounding yes.

This issue’s column by Brand Niemann is bound to make CIOs more than a little uncomfortable. Niemann, who was a pioneer in Gov 2.0 technology during his days at the Environmental Protection Agency, argues that the best way to advance the state of technology in government is to encourage innovative employees to come up with solutions rather than futilely waiting for the bureaucracy to get into the act. 

Vivek Kundra apparently was thinking along the same lines last month when he suggested offering each federal employee a $2,000 subsidy to buy his or her own smart phone or other mobile device rather than going through agency channels. But numerous FCW readers wrote in to explain why that was a bad idea. 

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