CIOs' blueprint makes Year 2000 top priority

Tackling the Year 2000 conversion problem tops the list of priorities for the council of chief information officers, according to a report the CIO Council recently released.

In the report, which also lists technology investment and interoperability as important issues agencies should focus on in the next five years, the CIO Council maps out its broad vision for federal agencies that use information and technology as strategic assets in meeting goals.

The council's top priority is emphasizing management practices that ensure mission-critical systems will continue to operate after Dec. 31, 1999. The council is considering asking the Office of Personnel Management to establish a waiver process governing certain retirment benefits that would allow agencies to hire retired programmers to help agencies reprogram software code, according to the report. "Year 2000 is the top priority, and resources should be directed from other activities into the Year 2000 problem," said G. Edward DeSeve, chairman of the CIO Council. "We want agencies to be able to operate their mission-critical systems in the Year 2000."

While the date-conversion problem ranks highest on the council's priority list, each of the goals outlined in the group's report has equal importance, DeSeve said. These goals include defining an interoperable federal architecture, developing security practices, establishing sound capital planning methods, improving the skills of the federal technology work force and establishing outreach programs.

Each goal has a corresponding committee leader who will be held responsible for the milestones outlined in the report, DeSeve said. "We're moving to a point where we really need to implement a set of standards across the government," DeSeve said. "[The plan has] a very fine grain of detail, and we know who's responsible for doing it."

The committees will meet every other month so that their leaders can report results to the council, said Greg Woods, deputy director of the National Performance Review, which has been renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. Woods said the council is making the transition from a "planning phase to an action phase."

The transition comes at a crucial time, said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology. How well the council carries out the goals could determine whether the council will thrive as an information technology leader in the federal arena or struggle to make an impact, he said.

"It's very ambitious on the Year 2000 front," he said. "It's something they can accomplish. They really need some successes in the short term. People are starting to question who the CIOs are [and] whether they're at the level that the executive order intended them to be on."

Renny DiPentima, president of SRA Federal Systems, who headed a task force to advise the Office of Management and Budget on how private-sector CIOs operate, said the council's priorities accurately reflect agencies' IT needs.

"When we look at Clinger-Cohen, the next thing [after Year 2000] that is very important is the whole area of investment analysis and capital planning," he said. "You really can't do capital planning and investment analysis without also considering your performance measures. For the CIO position to be successful, they have to do that very well."

The Clinger-Cohen Act calls for federal agencies to consider exactly how information systems will help them carry out their missions, and the performance they can expect from these investments.

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