Senate to empower CIO with IT budget authority

In a break from how information technology is traditionally managed in the government the Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to release legislation in the next few weeks that would give Agriculture Department chief information officer Anne Reed authority over the $1.2 billion department IT budget.

The legislation addresses an ongoing problem Congress and the General Accounting Office have highlighted at the USDA: a lack of coordinated planning and management over its IT purchases which has resulted in the development of agency systems that cannot talk to each other. If the legislation becomes law it will be the first time a CIO will have control over a department IT budget according to observers.

In a hearing last week held by the House Agriculture Committee Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) chairman of the subcommittee on Department Operations Nutrition and Foreign Agriculture said the "time is up the clock has run out on excuses" at the USDA.

"We expect and demand accountability. We're not convinced that the USDA is moving in all due haste in this area " Goodlatte said. He thinks Reed is a good choice for CIO but wants to ensure that she has enough authority to improve management of IT purchases in the department. He said he will consider introducing legislation if necessary to give her that control.

Reed said at the hearing that USDA secretary Dan Glickman assured her she "will have all the authority I need to make this happen. The Clinger-Cohen Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act give the USDA the legislative authority I need to make these changes."

Power PlayThis authority is significant and necessary if the CIO is to carry out goals laid out in the Government Performance and Results Act which asks agencies to relate acquisitions to the performance of their mission and the Clinger-Cohen Act which requires agencies to track the performance of large IT programs said Neil Stillman deputy CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"If they are giving Anne Reed the money for her to parcel out then it's momentous " Stillman said. "To ask us to do what is in the legislation without the authority can't be done. I totally agree with the [Senate] legislation." Others agree. "If an agency feels it needs to give IT budget authority to the CIO to make the position successful then it should do it " said Paul Brubaker vice president of federal information services at Litton/PRC Inc. and previously an aide to former Sen. William Cohen who wrote the law. "The important thing is to focus on the results of that position. I think it is consistent with the spirit of the law."

The Senate bill gives the USDA CIO the legal authority necessary to coordinate the IT planning process for the agency a source on the Senate Agriculture Committee said. Under the legislation every obligation of IT funds by an office and agency must be approved by the CIO. The CIO would be involved in the planning and review process up to approving obligations of funds. However the CIO would not get procurement authority.

The bill also ensures that the CIO has an adequate budget to operate the office of the CIO so that coordination of IT planning and acquisition can be done across the department.

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