Needed: Clinger-Cohen champion

What once was hailed as a law that would revolutionize the way government buys and uses information technology, now, three years later, has not moved much off the dime.

The Clinger-Cohen Act, which set up the framework for agencies to better manage how they buy and use IT, sits unfulfilled and is in danger, according to some, of losing its momentum. According to a Federal Computer Week survey, 17 of 24 major agencies have not complied with the law's six primary provisions, including setting performance goals for systems and determining employees' IT skills.

Agencies have said, understandably, that they have not been able to fully comply with the law primarily because much of their focus and effort has been on fixing computers for the Year 2000 problem. Others say tight budgets are to blame. But more seriously, some point out that when the law's sponsors—Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.) and Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine)—left Congress and their staffs broke up, no one was left in Congress to push agencies to meet the law's requirements.

Such a state of affairs is worrisome. Without a Clinger-Cohen advocate, more years could go by without agencies fully complying. Or at least, agencies may give a half-hearted effort to comply, leaving Clinger-Cohen merely an exercise in checking off boxes.

Agencies spend tens of billions of dollars on IT every year. With each year that passes that Clinger-Cohen goes unfulfilled, agencies risk wasting billions of dollars more on projects that are poorly conceived and managed.

Legislation needs a driver. Clinger-Cohen needs a champion. Someone in the administration needs to pick up where the bill's namesakes left off. Only then will we have true IT reform and a better-managed government.

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