GAO says CIOs need focused duties and more authority

A little more than a year after the Clinger-Cohen Act called for creating chief information officer positions in more than 20 agencies witnesses last week told a House subcommittee that many CIOs are still encumbered with duties that keep them from focusing on management of information resources. In addition panelists testifying before the House Subcommittee on Government Management Information and Technology painted a picture of CIOs who are struggling to find the authority that will allow them to tackle problems that have plagued many IT projects including budget overruns delays and systems that do not work.

In its testimony the General Accounting Office said it is particularly concerned that many agencies have overloaded CIOs by giving them combined CIO and chief financial officer responsibilities.

Five Cabinet-level departments - Commerce Veterans Affairs Health and Human Services Justice and Education - have CIOs who are also the top financial officer said Gene L. Dodaro GAO's assistant comptroller general for accounting and information management. At the Defense Department the acting CIO must juggle IT responsibilities with intelligence and communication duties.

"At present only 12 agencies have CIOs whose responsibilities are focused solely on information management " Dodaro testified. "[Another] 15 agencies have CIOs with multiple responsibilities." Those 15 agencies account for about $19 billion of the nearly $27 billion the federal government will spend on IT in a year he said.

This combination of duties does not sit well with some members of Congress. "I'm concerned that agencies vested the chief information officer's and the chief financial officer's responsibilities in one person " said subcommittee member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). "In this particular case you need a dedicated person focusing on the information needs."

Dodaro also criticized agencies that have not given CIOs as strong a reign over IT as envisioned under the Clinger-Cohen Act because agencies have had difficulty redistributing authority to give CIOs more power.

"A lot of people are reluctant to give up that authority to make proper changes " Dodaro said. Some CIOs do not have much authority over IT use at the regional or departmental level he added.

At the State Department however State CIO Eliza McClenaghan said she has strong influence over how IT is used.

"The CIO at the [State Department] has no other responsibilities than those of being the CIO " she said. "We have oversight over policy and guidance for the whole department. I have the authority over all development all efforts in IT in the [State Department]."

The interagency CIO Council is also still defining itself. Council leaders including Alan Balutis deputy CIO for Commerce said the council's accomplishments in the past year include the development of a "best practices" guide for dealing with the Year 2000 glitch and sponsorship of several federal IT forums.

But the council which has no legal authority over agencies lacks a strategic plan with measurable goals Dodaro said. The problem which is reflected in many agencies is the difficulty of linking IT use with agency business or mission goals Dodaro said. For example HHS officials should be able to link IT investments with the agency's goal of reducing Medicare fraud and abuse he said.

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