Treasury to codify IT managers' skill sets

The Treasury Department plans this fall to begin assessing and documenting the skills of its top information technology managers as a prelude to crafting training programs for current and future executives.

The education plan, designed to carry out provisions of the Clinger-Cohen Act which demand that agencies improve IT managers' professional skills, was outlined in a July 7 memo from James Flyzik, Treasury's chief information officer, and Kay Frances Dolan, the department's deputy assistant secretary for human resources.

Fred Thompson, Treasury's program manager for IT work force improvement, said the project will address executives' needs for a combination of technical, financial and "general management'' knowledge to do their jobs well.

"A lot of the people that move into executive jobs are very good at a subset of these competencies,'' Thompson said. "[But] the breadth of skills needed to run the overall organization [is] more than that.

"You could be an outstanding director of multiple programmers," he continued. "But if you were to move into a job as CIO of the [Internal Revenue Service], you would need to understand how to get things done with the Hill, work with the private sector and understand [policy, security and other issues].''

Similar efforts are under way governmentwide. The federal CIO Council is researching training and recruitment practices and looking for ways to attract and retain managers and technical staff. Treasury officials tailored the "core competencies'' for IT managers endorsed by the CIO Council to their own program.

John Murray, the deputy CIO with Treasury's Financial Management Service, said effective IT executives must not only know their own jobs but "also understand the business of others.''

Amitava Dutta, a professor with the Executive MBA Program at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., agreed."They must understand business strategies very well,'' Dutta said. "Historically, [IT] managers did not think of who they were interacting with. Having this [business] process view is extremely important. And with any manager, people skills are very important.''

The training offered through the Treasury program will depend on the results of "competency assessments'' of about 70 top managers. These evaluations will be done by a contractor that the department will choose next month through the General Services Administration's Management Organization and Business Improvement Services schedule program.

Meanwhile, Treasury has started to develop new classes for its Treasury Executive Institute, which educates managers. Programs through TEI would be open to non-IT executives who, according to the memo, "need to better understand and more effectively interface with their IT counterparts.''

Treasury officials also are exploring other education options, including technical training offered by the IRS School of Information Technology. Thompson said the program is too new for officials to have decided whether aspiring IT executives will be required to take specific courses to get the top technology jobs.

Peter Keen, a consultant in Great Falls, Va., said federal IT managers "need to get a better sense of how to talk with their bosses'' and learn how to identify good investment targets.

"They also need to learn how to be better at outsourcing and get away from these contracts that don't work,'' he said.Nevertheless, training will not matter unless Congress and top agency program executives understand the importance of IT investments, Keen said.

"It's certainly nice to improve someone's skills, but we still have the problem of resource allocation,'' Keen said. "I think what we really need is to complement this with a [chief executive officer] education process.''

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