Energizing the CIO

The Homeland Security Department’s chief information officer should report directly to DHS’ secretary and deputy secretary, a promotion that could happen quickly, government officials told lawmakers last week.

Richard Skinner, DHS’ acting inspector general, said the CIO’s position as it is structured has resources to meet many of the department’s goals. But the person in that position lacks the authority to oversee and redirect resources. Skinner estimated it would take less than a year for an elevated CIO to make substantial and needed changes in the department.

Information technology “transcends all department operations, and someone needs to be in a management position to provide oversight,” Skinner said.

Clark Kent Ervin, a former DHS inspector general and now director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Aspen Institute, said the department’s CIO must be able to hire, fire and direct subordinates.

Direct access to DHS leaders would help improve information sharing within the department and with other federal law enforcement agencies, both of which are crucial for homeland security, Ervin said.

Skinner and Ervin testified last week before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Management, Integration and Oversight Subcommittee.

The CIO’s authority at DHS has been a subject of long-running controversy. In the current organization, the CIO reports to Janet Hale, DHS’ undersecretary for management.

That relationship could change, however. Michael Chertoff, the new DHS secretary, has begun a top-to-bottom review of how the department operates. His review will include a decision about who should replace Steve Cooper as departmental CIO and how much power that person will have.

IT is crucial for all of DHS’ operations, so the CIO must have direct contact with the department’s leaders, said Asa Hutchinson, former director of the department’s Border and Transportation Directorate and now leader of the Homeland Security Group at Venable, a Washington, D.C., law firm.

Norman Rabkin, managing director for homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office, also testified, saying that the CIO should

have the power to make departmentwide decisions.

GAO officials issued a report last week in which they recommended elevating the CIO position. They also advised DHS officials to limit their IT spending until the department has sufficient management controls to spend wisely.

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