Who wants Cooper's headaches?

Chertoff will decide DHS' new power structure

Steve Cooper announced his resignation as chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department April 4, and questions about who will succeed him soon followed. Some department officials say Cooper’s departure will have less impact on DHS’ operations than Secretary Michael Chertoff’s plans to restructure DHS.

That reorganization will be critical in determining how effective the department’s next CIO will be, said James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He said DHS’ CIO deserves more authority.

Cooper’s colleagues in government and industry give him high marks as DHS’ first CIO, especially for his approach to combining the information technology operations of 22 agencies that employ 180,000 people.

“As CIO, Steve brought strategic vision and tireless effort to the critical mission of the department,” said Janet Hale, DHS’ undersecretary for management and Cooper’s soon-to-be-former boss.

The next CIO must build on Cooper’s accomplishments and increase information sharing within DHS, while capitalizing on existing assets to limit costs, said Charles Armstrong, CIO at the department’s Border and Transportation Security Directorate, speaking April 12 at a conference in McLean, Va., sponsored by Federal Sources Inc.

The CIO’s position must be given authority equal to that of CIOs in other federal departments, Carafano said. The CIOs of DHS agencies report to the undersecretaries of their respective directorates rather than to Cooper.

The next CIO should also be given budget authority, said Bob Guerra, a partner at Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates. “If you don’t control the money, I don’t know how you can get things done,” he said. The agencies’ CIOs can block Cooper’s requests because they don’t report to him, Guerra said.

A question to ask is whether Cooper’s replacement will be a political appointee or a career government official, Guerra said, adding that a career employee could encounter trouble because the position is so political.

Being a political apointee “greases the skids,” said Cooper, a Bush appointee. “When you have the support of the White House, it’s not a bad thing.”

But the next CIO must be able to centralize power that is now scattered throughout DHS, said Matthew Calkins, president and chief executive officer at Appian, which designs and operates Web portals for DHS. “We need someone who is powerful and who is given power,” he said.

Carafano was more blunt in advising candidates for the job: “If they don’t get the authority and staff they need to do the job right, they should tell [DHS] to suck eggs — and not take the job.”

Who's next at DHS?

Steve Cooper’s (left) resignation as the Homeland Security Department’s chief information officer opens one of the most high-profile and challenging positions in federal information technology. Among the people rumored to be possible replacements are:

  • John Gilligan, Air Force CIO.
  • Scott Hastings, CIO for DHS’ U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which tracks foreign visitors entering and leaving the United States.
  • Vance Hitch, Justice Department CIO.
  • Lee Holcomb, DHS’ chief technology officer, Cooper’s second-in-command and acting CIO during the search for a replacement.
  • Daniel Matthews, Transportation Department CIO.

    — Michael Arnone

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