CIOs gain responsibilities but still lose ground

Alan Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems' Internet Business Solutions Group.

I recently attended one of the many “Farewell, Vivek” events. Quite an evening: seven introductory remarks by six speakers representing five organizations. Fifteen-plus minutes of introductions for an eight-minute speech by the guest of honor. The night before, the CIO Council and the Office of Management and Budget powers turned out in force to wish Federal CIO Vivek Kundra well as he heads off for a semester at Harvard University. One of the topics on the minds of many of those IT leaders was the Aug. 8 memo from OMB Director Jack Lew titled “Chief Information Officer Authorities.”

I’ve written several times about the challenging role of CIOs in the federal government, most recently about a soon-to-be-released Government Accountability Office report on how the position could be improved and strengthened. Lew’s memo reads like a pre-emptive move to respond to and support GAO.

GAO found that CIOs do not consistently have responsibility for 13 major areas of IT and information management as defined by law or deemed critical to effective IT management. Specifically, most CIOs are responsible for seven key IT management areas: capital planning and investment management; enterprise architecture; information security; IT strategic planning; e-government initiatives; systems acquisition, development and integration; and IT workforce planning.

By contrast, they are less frequently responsible for information management duties such as information collection/paperwork reduction, information dissemination, information disclosure, statistical policy and coordination, records management, and privacy. Just over half of the CIOs reported directly to the heads of their respective agencies as required by the Clinger-Cohen Act. CIOs do not always have sufficient control over IT investments, and they often have limited influence over the IT workforce. Most telling perhaps is their limited control and influence over IT budgets. The GAO report concludes that, “despite the broad authority given to CIOs in federal law, those officials face limitations that hinder their ability to effectively exercise this authority.”

Lew’s memo, although likely intended as a response to GAO’s report, is a somewhat puzzling missive. In a tone softer than expected even from a “kinder and gentler” OMB, it largely ignores the main findings of GAO’s report. Instead, it presumes that CIOs have and are executing all the responsibilities and authorities given them and that we need to give them even more, to wit: “In addition to their statutory responsibilities through the Clinger-Cohen Act and related laws...there are four main areas in which agency CIOs shall have a lead role.”

One could read that as “in addition to the other needed authorities denied them and their failure to have the required responsibilities, CIOs should also be denied the following four key authorities and responsibilities.”

The four new areas are governance, commodity IT, program management and information security. As noted above, information security is already a CIO responsibility under statute. Left unclear is whether the remaining three will be added to the seven most CIOs are currently responsible for or to the six they are less frequently responsible for.

I predict the scoring in the next GAO report — released circa 2018 because the agency seems to do this report every seven years — will be 7 to 9, and they can keep the same conclusion. By the time the report is formally issued, yet another Cabinet agency will have downgraded the CIO in its organizational structure, as has already happened at the Social Security Administration, Defense Department, Health and Human Services Department, Agriculture Department, and others.

Who disagrees with me? I won’t consider this matter closed until I hear from Paul “Just Read the Report Language” Brubaker.

About the Author

Alan P. Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above