Commerce plans CIO restructure

The Commerce Department is proposing a radical new information technology management structure that would give its bureau and agency chief information officers more authority over IT personnel and spending, FCW has learned.

Among the key elements of the proposal is a plan to consolidate all department employees involved in the development or operations of IT into a newly created CIO structure. In addition, all operating unit CIOs will control by Oct. 1, 2003, the IT budget for their agency or bureau, consolidating a fragmented budget system.

The goal of the program is to strengthen the role of the operating unit CIOs in an effort to improve IT management and avoid past IT missteps—such as cost overruns and missed deadlines—associated with managing large-scale systems, according to sources. Under the plan, a CIO would have the authority to say how money that is appropriated to a given program should best be spent.

Commerce officials declined to comment on the plan; however, a publicly available document discussing the proposal said the goal is to have a secretarial decision memorandum in place approving the changes by Oct. 1.

Other key aspects of the proposal are: The Commerce CIO would report to the department secretary on behalf of all IT activities; each operating unit would have a CIO who reports to the chief executive officer or the chief operating officer of that unit; the CIO would be responsible for all IT activities; the department CIO would perform 50 percent of the performance evaluations of operating unit CIOs; and the department CIO would have equal say with operating unit officials in the hiring of operating unit CIOs.

The plan represents a significant change from current processes, sources said. Currently, not all bureaus or agencies in Commerce have appointed CIOs. In those that have, most CIOs report to the chief financial officer. In addition, under the current structure, the majority of significant IT work is done under program managers or office directors who have their own staffs.

While not familiar with the Commerce plan, Jim Flyzik, CIO at the Treasury Department and vice chairman of the CIO Council, said it makes sense for CIOs to have more authority. "CIOs continue to take on more responsibility and accountability as we use IT more and more strategically in everyday business," he said. "So if we are going to hold CIOs accountable and responsible, they will need some authority to carry out those responsibilities. That would include some control over budget and resources."

There are different ways to give a CIO authority, Flyzik said. One way is through a formal restructuring. Another way is to create a process so that CIOs and CFOs can make IT decisions together.

Renny DiPentima, president of SRA Federal Systems, said he supports giving more authority to agency CIOs—including giving them a say in IT budgets—because such a move would give them more of a hands-on role in how programs are implemented. However, the department-level CIO should hold the responsibility for drafting a departmentwide IT architecture and establishing standards and a capital planning structure. "Those need to be stated to make sure any projects or procurements are consistent" across the department, DiPentima said. In addition, the CIO should seek insight from an IT investment review board, he said.

It is important to get buy-in from those involved in a particular program, said Steven Kelman, a Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "I think you have to reach a balance because with the exception of infrastructure investments, most IT investments are in support of and on behalf of programs," he said. "I wouldn't want to see a [situation] where a CIO could by himself or herself say, 'Here is where I think we should spend money.' "

Similarly, some in Congress have worked to give the Agriculture Department's CIO added power. A bill introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in May would give USDA's CIO more control over technology spending and more power to manage the Year 2000 problem. The bill is awaiting Senate action.

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