Lawmakers press for fed CIO czar

It's time to put an IT expert in charge of the government's information

technology, according to members of a House government reform subcommittee — technology leadership by a lawyer has yielded woeful results.

Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) blasted Sally Katzen, the Clinton administration's

top IT policy official, for failing to stop federal agencies from spending

billions of dollars on computer systems that ultimately didn't work, and

for presiding over government computer systems that have earned a D-minus

average on recent security tests.

Katzen, deputy director for management in the Office of Management and

Budget, returned fire, blaming Congress for inadequate funding for security

proj-ects and faulting prior administrations for flawed computer system

procurement practices.

The showdown occurred Sept. 12 while the Government Management, Information

and Technology Subcommittee that Horn chairs considered whether the nation

needs a chief information officer.

Two subcommittee members — a Republican and a Democrat — have introduced

bills in the House to create a cabinet-level CIO position. A similar bill

is pending in the Senate.

The CIO would be the chief policy-maker and adviser to the president

on information technology issues — a role Katzen fills now in her job at

OMB, with help from the agency's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who introduced one of the House bills, agreed

that "OMB has the responsibility" to oversee the government's use of information

technology, but he added that OMB "simply is unable to devote the attention

needed to carry out those responsibilities as required by law."

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), author of the other House measure, reminded

Katzen, "You are trained as an attorney," not a computer specialist. "And

you wear many hats," he said, citing Katzen's multiple oversight responsibilities.

Katzen noted that as deputy director for management, she also serves

as chairwoman of the CIO Council, the Chief Financial Officers Council,

the Chief Procurement Officers Council and on other policy-making boards.

"What we are trying to do is put someone with an IT background" in a

position to oversee federal IT programs, Turner said. Naming a federal CIO

to focus solely on information technology matters would lead to better cross-agency

coordination of IT projects and faster progress toward digital government.

The hardest slap at Katzen came from Horn, who asked why she failed

to "pull the plug" earlier on wasteful computer system purchases by the

Federal Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

Rather than cancel the troubled systems, Katzen said, OMB ordered reviews

and discussed problems with agency chiefs. "We worked together. We're collegial,"

she said.

"Yeah," replied Horn, "collegial with taxpayers' money to the tune of

$7 billion."

Horn asked why government computer systems overall received a grade

of D-minus in a security analysis by the General Accounting Office (see

story, Page 50).

"We do not completely agree with the grades," Katzen said, and blamed

Congress for not fully funding several computer security projects.

Katzen opposed appointing a single CIO, arguing "IT leadership must

be part and parcel" of the budgeting and management operation headed by

OMB. She cited the uneventful Year 2000 computer date rollover as a key

success under OMB leadership.

But Davis noted that OMB turned the Y2K proj-ect over to John Koskinen,

whose job was to concentrate solely on solving that problem. Koskinen's

success seems to underscore the need for a federal CIO, he said.0Related links:


  • Workforce
    online collaboration (elenabsl/

    Federal employee job satisfaction climbed during pandemic

    The survey documents the rapid change to teleworking postures in government under the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    OPM nominee plans focus on telework, IT, retirement

    Kiran Ahuja, a veteran of the Office of Personnel Management, told lawmakers that she thinks that the lack of consistent leadership in the top position at OPM has taken a toll on the ability of the agency to complete longer term IT modernization projects.

Stay Connected