Give 'czar' proposal its due

The initial reaction to the proposed creation of a federal IT czar - cautious and supportive at best, but generally ambivalent - only highlights how influential federal agency chief information officers have become and how vital the IT czar might be.

Commerce CIO Roger Baker pitched the idea this month, saying the government needs a central manager who can offer federal agencies a common vision for information technology procurement and management. But other CIOs questioned whether such a position could be made truly effective and whether it was needed at all, given the strong role of the CIO Council.

The questions bring to mind the doubts raised by many in the IT community when agencies first began appointing CIOs just four years ago. Congress created the position of CIO to raise the profile of IT in individual agencies and to guide the revolution in IT management launched by the Clinger-Cohen Act.

While generally supporting the idea, numerous IT officials wondered whether an agency CIO would ever have the clout needed to become a force beyond the IT corridors.

Now, CIOs question the need for an IT czar because they have gained that clout. An IT czar seems somewhat redundant and potentially a bottleneck. But the federal IT community needs the kind of leadership an IT czar offers.

IT has become a driving force in government. The emergence of the Internet and other technology offers an opportunity to rethink how government carries out its internal operations and, more importantly, how it delivers services to the public. The IT czar could play a vital role in making sure the sum of agencies' investments in IT align with this vision of a digital government.

The CIOs are right in wondering how the position might be structured so that the IT czar truly could have an impact. But the CIOs have set a precedent themselves, emerging against all odds as a powerful force in federal agencies.

Now it is time to take the CIO vision to the next level.

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