CIOs lacking; OMB oversight questioned
With only three weeks to go before the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA) goes into effect, agencies have appointed too few qualified chief information officers and the Office of Management Budget appears ill-prepared to oversee implementation of the law, according to the General Accounting Office.
Christopher Hoenig, director of information resources management policies and issues at GAO's Accounting and Information Management Division, told members of the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the District of Columbia that most agencies have failed to nominate experienced and powerful officials to fill CIO slots.
"Many of the agencies' actions to date in contemplating CIO appointments do not reflect a full understanding of either the letter or the intent of the legislation," Hoenig said at last week's hearing. "Some individuals being considered lack clear track records and adequate business or technical expertise."
Hoenig pointed out that only 13 of the largest 27 departments have named CIOs. Of those, only three "have been advised by OMB that their CIO positions meet the requirements of the law," he said.
He also questioned how departments would divide CIO functions among the various tiers of the organizations, such as agencies and bureaus, adding that GAO is preparing a report for subcommittee chairman Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), the primary author of ITMRA, that focuses on how five agencies have tackled that issue.
"That is a real problem that hasn't been addressed yet," Hoenig said.
In addition, four agencies have notified OMB that they hope to integrate CIO functions with those held by chief financial officers. Such a move, Hoenig said, would contradict the intentions of the act as stated by Cohen and the findings of an OMB-commissioned report by the Industry Advisory Council.
"The problems associated with financial and information management in most federal agencies are very significant and require attention from separate individuals," Hoenig said.
But John Koskinen, OMB's deputy director for management, testified that he viewed the slow pace of acceptable CIO appointments as "a good sign" that agencies are "making a good-faith effort to respond to the guidance we've given them."
Koskinen also indicated that it would not be appropriate for OMB to prohibit agencies from merging the CIO and CFO functions.
"We've tried to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate," he said. "But as a general matter, most CIOs will not be CFOs."
Hoenig testified that OMB apparently has not prepared adequately for its future role overseeing agencies' IT capital planning and investment procedures. It has not defined explicitly how it will evaluate agencies' IT results, ensure adequate planning and investment processes, ensure use of accurate data in agency decision making and link agencies' IT portfolio analyses to budget recommendations.
Koskinen said in an interview two days after the hearing that OMB had made progress in addressing the concerns raised by Hoenig. Koskinen pointed to a Part 3 revision of Circular A-11, which OMB has begun sending to agencies. The revision calls on agencies to submit a single, simplified document on the justification and performance of their proposed major IT programs, he said.
OMB also has begun developing a capital planning guide for use in the fiscal 1999 budget cycle, Koskinen said.
Koskinen said he did not view OMB's role as the kind of extensive oversight previously practiced by GSA under the Brooks Act. "The concept should not be for OMB to have more expertise than the agencies," he said. "It should be to ensure the right amount of expertise within agencies."
Agency representatives at the hearing said they endorsed the legislation. Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for C3I, said he believes ITMRA will allow DOD to save money by investing in IT more efficiently, but he added that he fears the law's effectiveness will diminish if strong leadership is not in place to enforce it after he and Cohen retire at the end of the year. He cited the gutting of DOD's Corporate Information Management effort as an example of a program that failed because it lacked strong leadership.
Despite the potential problems, Cohen said he is confident the new law will benefit the government. "I think the progress has been truly encouraging," he said at the hearing. "I think the taxpayers are going to be impressed with what we are doing."