Breul: CMO idea could stick around

The federal government is in a period of profound transition that will require agencies to start major organizational change initiatives to address 21st-century challenges. At the same time, agencies continue to suffer from a range of long-standing management problems that undermine their ability to effectively accomplish their missions and achieve results.

The Government Accountability Office has a possible solution: create a chief management officer position in agencies to elevate the level of attention paid to management issues, integrate various transformational efforts and institutionalize accountability.

According to GAO, the CMO should have a direct reporting relationship to the department secretary, responsibility for integrating key management functions and overseeing business transformation, a performance agreement, and an appointment of five or seven years. Late last year, GAO went a step further, developing a how-to guide with criteria on structuring the CMO position.

At present, no federal department has a CMO with all of those responsibilities. However, the concept has been gaining momentum.

Last year, President Bush signed a law that makes the undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department that department’s CMO. Also last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates appointed Deputy Secretary Gordon England to be the Defense Department’s first CMO. Also, the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization law codified the CMO and deputy CMO. The 2009 Defense Authorization bill goes a step further; it would direct DOD’s deputy CMO to be vice chairman of the Defense Business Systems Management Committee and require that the military service undersecretaries be designated as their CMOs.

The challenge of business transformation should not be underestimated. Aligning the strategy, controls, people, processes and technology to effect enterprisewide transformation in a large, complex organization such as DOD is an enormous task.

Such business transformation efforts require governance and discipline to make steady and significant progress.

DOD is one of the largest and most complex organizations in the world, and the department has consistently been on GAO’s list of projects at risk for fraud, waste or mismanagement. In 2007, GAO put DOD’s approach to business transformation itself on the high-risk list. And GAO has never removed a single DOD business area from the list.

Although DOD’s complexity sets it apart somewhat from the rest of government, the move to create CMOs governmentwide is one reform that is certain to survive the transition between administrations. There is a compelling need for leaders to provide the continuity and focused attention essential to completing multiyear transformations — so much so that GAO believes every federal agency can benefit from a CMO.

Breul (jonathan.d.breul @us.ibm.com) is executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a partner at IBM Global Business Services. Previously, he served as senior adviser to the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

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