Wohlleben: Looking back, looking forward

CIOs feel the Clinger-Cohen Act has had a significant impact on managing IT

Read the ITAA survey, “Ten Years After Clinger-Cohen: Looking Back, Looking Forward”

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The Information Technology Association of America’s annual survey of federal chief information officers has served as a periodic snapshot of the vital issues confronted by the government’s IT leadership. The survey is conducted to ensure anonymity for the CIOs who participate, and as a result, our discussions with CIOs are often frank and uninhibited.

Given that the Clinger-Cohen Act marked its 10-year anniversary in February, we asked the CIOs we interviewed a series of questions to identify what has changed since the law’s enactment and whether the anticipated benefits have been achieved.

We found that the Clinger-Cohen Act has had a significant impact on the federal CIO community. According to the CIOs we interviewed, the greatest contribution of the act has been to set the framework for how IT is managed. They also credited Clinger-Cohen with repealing the Brooks Act and thus leading the way to a reformed environment in which to acquire IT products and services.

Our CIOs said that their role was not as well positioned and didn’t have the same impact as that of their counterpart chief financial officers. The CIO role has matured significantly in the past 10 years, but the process is a journey that remains distant from a truly mature destination.

We asked the CIOs to identify the key issues they expected to dominate their priorities during the remainder of the current Bush administration. Their top priorities remain IT security and privacy.

Although they report progress in these areas, IT security is viewed as a work in progress in a very dynamic environment. CIOs are looking for new solutions from industry that will improve their ability to secure their organizations.

Other important areas we found in the interviews were enterprise standardization and consolidation, project management, shared/managed services, and application consolidation and integration.

We asked the CIOs we interviewed to articulate the vision they had for the CIO position three to five years in the future. They envision a strong federal CIO, one who will be recognized as a key member of the senior leadership team and will be viewed as a strategist and visionary with deep mission understanding. CIOs will be viewed as change agents who lead improvement in both mission-critical and back-office IT systems.

They expect the CIO position to be perceived as on par with that of the CFO’s in terms of influence.

I expect CIOs to continue to increase their impact as senior agency leaders, but I believe their vision is overly optimistic. That said, CIOs have become increasingly integral to the leadership at many federal organizations since the enactment of Clinger-Cohen.

In that time, CIOs have driven significant improvements in the processes by which IT is planned, budgeted and acquired.

The key challenge confronting CIOs is to prove that they are able to execute plans for IT projects, modernizations and operations. If CIOs can meet this challenge, the future vision they described will be within reach; if they cannot, it will remain a distant destination.

Wohlleben is a partner at Grant Thornton’s Global Public Sector in Alexandria, Va. Previously, he worked as CIO at the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service and as deputy CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency.

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