CIO Council to request its first-ever budget

After three years of depending on the fiscal largesse of federal agenciesfor operating money, the federal CIO Council this year plans to send itsfirst-ever budget request to Congress.

The council last week in a closed meeting discussed its strategic planfor fiscal 2000, which included a detailed budget request. Members willreview the plan and are expected to vote this week to send it to the Officeof Management and Budget, said Alan Balutis, deputy chief information officerat the Commerce Department and chairman of the CIO Council Outreach Committee.Balutis said the plan "lays out a very ambitious framework for the future,"but he declined to discuss the details of the plan until CIOs have votedon it and OMB has finished examining the document.

"If we really want to be an activist body, if we really want to playan important role working with OMB and other groups in developing policy,and we really wanted to take on some of these difficult issues, those arethings you can't do on a shoestring budget or pass the hat," Balutis said."You need to make real investments."

The CIO Council has not held a high profile in the policy arena, nordoes it have the budgetary support that would give the council enough influenceto make changes, said Phil Kiviat, president of the Kiviat Group, a consultingand marketing company in Potomac, Md.

"I never had any expectations for any short-run successes," said Kiviat,who worked as an industry liaison to help establish the council. "I sortof thought it would be around for only two or three years."

But he added that the council has been challenged by a high degree ofturnover and by its lack of money. "They are weakened by the lack of authority;they are weakened by the lack of money," he said. "Things have to be studied;things have to be expressed in written position papers and briefed. Theproblems are complex. Data has to be collected. You can't do these thingswithout money."

Paul Wohlleben, former CIO at the General Services Administration'sPublic Buildings Service, said the Year 2000 problem helped boost the importanceof CIOs among agency heads, and that, in turn, has burnished the reputationof the CIO Council, a situation that may help it secure funds.

"They have improved their position with the overseers in the administration,so they are positioned to make this kind of attempt that lays a foundationfor them to contribute at a greater level than they have been able to,"said Wohlleben, now a partner with the consulting firm Grant-Thorton LLP.

But Gary Bass, director of the Washington, D.C.-based public policy advocacy group OMB Watch, said the council focuses on "esoteric" issues and "has a track record of not being that engaged." He said the council has failed to take up discussion of encryption, privacy and access issues, which make up the nexus of government and information technology.

Before the council is given a budget, he said, it should be required to describe in greater detail what its scope is, and it should become more accountable, with its meetings open to the public and the media.

"They're mainly dealing with bells and whistles, and that's it," Bass said. "I think there's a much greater set of issues that needs to be dealt with. What we need is less of an alphabet soup - and better soup."

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