CKO: A welcome addition

When Congress passed information technology procurement and management reforms, the idea was to push stodgy federal IT managers to think out of the box about how IT could support agencies' missions. Many agencies certainly have taken the reforms to heart, with the latest change coming in the form of the chief knowledge officer.

Federal information technology professionals are not known for embracing faddish ideas. But top federal IT managers may be on to something with the CKO.

A CKO sounds like a somewhat loopy, New Age concept that often is better in theory than in practice. But the responsibility of the CKO is a key element to making IT work throughout government: to organize the vast stores of data and information scattered throughout an agency so that federal employees can access the information they need, when they need it. That way, the thinking goes, information becomes knowledge because it provides program managers and policy-makers with the ability to make better decisions. Some experts believe the effort to make it easier to tap information could help solve some of government's toughest policy problems, including the management of IT itself.

As the size of government and agency budgets decrease, the management of an agency's information will become more important than ever.

However, pitfalls await agencies that embark on the CKO path. The position adds another layer of management to an ever-increasing IT management pile. It was only three years ago that agencies formed the position of chief information officer. Another top-level position adds overhead to government's IT operations, which need to be nimble enough to make quick decisions. Also, without money behind CKOs, their efforts to bring order to agencies' burgeoning files of electronic data could fail.

Agencies that choose to form a position for a CKO must address these issues if they hope to avoid past mistakes. But done properly, the CKO could increase the chances for more enlightened policy-making and a more efficient government.

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