Editorial: Why CIOs matter

As we looked back at 2005, we noticed that the role of chief information officers kept coming up. Agency CIOs faced various mandates, and some individuals chose to leave government. Those stories, combined with the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the Clinger- Cohen Act on Jan. 3, spurred us to dedicate Federal Computer Week's annual Watch List issue to addressing the question: Do CIOs matter?

The act's requirement that most agencies establish CIO positions was a seminal development in the way the government views information technology. No longer was the IT manager merely the person who made sure desktop PCs worked. Instead, the legislation tacitly acknowledged that IT was essential in enabling the government to carry out its various missions, and it mandated that one person spearhead those efforts as an essential part of the management team.

Those sentiments remain true 10 years later.

Unfortunately, some agencies have dodged the mandate. For example, they might have met the letter of the law by naming a deputy director for management but essentially leaving responsibility for most IT duties where they were. Even today, some agencies, including the Homeland Security Department, don't even list the CIO on their organizational chart.

Perhaps we aren't the most objective observers, but we believe that CIOs -- or whatever agencies call them -- do matter. IT is just as important to carrying out agency missions as it was 10 years ago, perhaps more important. Yet CIOs -- in fact, everybody in the IT community -- should remember that missions are paramount. IT's role is to help agencies achieve those missions more effectively.

Karen Evans, who as administrator of e-government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget serves as the de facto government CIO, expressed it well in her interview with Federal Computer Week: Those who add value earn a seat at the table.

"What really happens is the person has to earn that seat and keep the seat," she said. "Where that comes from is the value that you bring and the results that you achieve."

-- Christopher J. Dorobek

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