Editorial: Setting priorities

You get what you measure, experts say. And we're told that budgets and organizational charts indicate priorities. So we wondered what the Homeland Security Department's organizational chart said about its priorities when it showed that the agency's chief information officer does not report to the head of the agency.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's Second Stage Review culminated last week in a six-point plan for reorganizing the department. The plan calls for some important changes, including the creation of an assistant secretary of cybersecurity and telecommunications. But we had hoped that the reorganization would address the CIO and chief financial officer problem. Currently, the CIO and CFO report to the agency's deputy director for management rather than to the secretary.

It would be better if this was true only at DHS, but that agency is not alone. There are still many agencies in which the CIO does not report to the top executive, despite the fact that the Clinger-Cohen Act requires it.

Some agencies do not have a CIO. The Defense Department, for example, has been without one for 16 months.

We are not criticizing the people who have been doing the work; we are criticizing agencies' priorities. Perhaps those priorities reveal something about the real value attached to information sharing and financial management.

Nicholas Carr's recent book "Does IT Matter?" could easily have been titled "Do CIOs Matter?"

Information technology executives must ensure that their work is tied to agencies' missions and that their organizations are a critical part of their agencies. But that priority-setting effort must come from the top of the agency. And it will be almost impossible to share information effectively without fully empowered CIOs.

Changing reporting structures and organizational charts does not fix the underlying problem — but it is an important step.

— Christopher J. Dorobek

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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