CRS: Chief technology officer would face fights

A federal chief technology officer would likely face ongoing turf wars and other problems because of uncertain — and possibly overlapping — authorities with other agencies, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Perhaps one of the most difficult and enduring challenges a CTO may face would be ‘turf wars’ associated with overlapping responsibilities with other executive agencies and their principals on issues such as technology and innovation policy, computer and network security, and intellectual property enforcement,” the report states.

Those agencies could include the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, John Sargent, a specialist in technology policy at CRS, wrote in the report issued Jan. 21.

President Barack Obama stated as early as November 2007 that he intends to appoint a federal CTO, a plan he has reiterated since his election.

There are also uncertainties about the scope of the new position and few details available on where the CTO would be located organizationally and how that official's duties would be aligned with other agencies, states the report titled “A Federal Chief Technology Officer in the Obama Administration: Options and Issues for Consideration.” It was posted on the Web on Feb. 2 by the Federation of American Scientists.

In campaign and presidential transition documents, Obama identified several areas of responsibility for a CTO, including transparency of government operations, computer and network security, and identifying and adopting best information technology practices by federal agencies. The position would be similar to a “supra Chief Information Officer” job to improve the effectiveness of IT use in the government, the report suggested.

There also has been speculation about whether the CTO might be asked to undertake a broader role and serve as a lead advocate for technology programs and investments for purposes of economic growth, job creation and national defense.

Many details related to the position are not clear, the report states. For example, it isn't known if the post will be established by executive order, or whether Obama will seek legislation to create it. Also, it's not clear if Obama intends for the CTO to be a solitary position, a White House office with a support staff, or part of an existing agency or White House office.

If Congress chooses to establish a CTO position through statute, CRS said, it should consider these questions:

  • What mission, duties, and authorities should be given a CTO?
  • Should a CTO serve as both the primary chief information officer for the federal government as well as the lead advocate for U.S. technological innovation?
  • What level of funding should be appropriated for a CTO?
  • Should a CTO be placed in the Executive Office of the President or elsewhere in the executive branch? Should the CTO report directly to the president?
  • Should a CTO be a stand-alone position or an office or agency with its own staff
  • How should the work of a CTO fit in the Executive Office of the President and other executive branch agencies?
  • What should be the relationship between the president’s CTO and the existing CTOs and CIOs of individual departments and agencies?

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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