Building a blueprint for agency CIOs
- By Diane Frank
- Apr 03, 2000
Federal agencies have much to learn from their state government and industry
counterparts about the role chief information officers play. A new guide
from the General Accounting Office sifts through the lessons learned to
help agencies lay a foundation for federal CIOs.
On a larger scale, Congress last week raised new questions about the
role of a possible federal or national CIO who would report directly to
the president and coordinate governmentwide technology use.
The GAO executive guide, "Maximizing the Success of Chief Information
Officers: Learning from Leading Organizations," pulls experiences from three
state governments and three companies and compares them with the CIO situation
within federal agencies. GAO determined that there are six fundamental principles
that most federal agencies are not following (see box).
A common theme in those principles is raising the CIO position into
the upper levels of the business side of agencies, executives told the House
Government Reform Committee's Government Management, Information and Technology
Subcommittee last month.
"The success of the CIO heavily depends on the senior management understanding
the role of the CIO within the organization," said David McClure, associate
director for governmentwide and defense information systems at the GAO Accounting
and Information Management Division. "Agency leaders must help facilitate
success in the IT arena. CIOs are critical, but they cannot do it alone."
"In the private sector, many CIOs have evolved into a chief technology
officer, working side by side with the CEO. The public-sector CIO has not
yet reached this level of influence," said Jim Flyzik, CIO at the Treasury
Department and vice chairman of the CIO Council.
Because of CIOs' involvement in solving the Year 2000 problem and the
push to move services to the Internet, federal CIOs have made strides toward
becoming a partner in agency leadership, Flyzik said. State and industry
examples show that such a leadership role is vital.
"To achieve effective use of IT, the states have been gravitating to
CIOs reporting to the governor," said Otto Doll, president of the National
Association of State Information Resource Executives.
This falls in line with the recent renewal of enthusiasm for a federal
CIO, a concept that first came up when Congress was drafting the Clinger-Cohen
Act of 1996, the legislation that created the CIO position at federal agencies.
Last month, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas)
and Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) expressed interest in the benefits of creating
such a position. Lieberman and Turner went so far as to say that they would
likely introduce legislation to do just that.
"I have come to the firm conviction that we do need a federal chief
information officer," Turner said. "The CIO at the federal level needs
to have direct access to the president and needs to be at the table so his
ideas can be shared as aspects of government are discussed."
This would be a step cheered by federal, state and industry CIOs. A
federal CIO could help coordinate specific IT programs and missions across
government, Flyzik said. The CIO Council has tried to fill this role, but
it lacks the program and budget authority that a federal CIO would have,
"We do need some authority that can put in place the things we need
to do on a governmentwide basis," he said. "The need for someone, something,
some organization to have power is there."
But it could only work if the position is carefully crafted and the
responsibilities clearly defined, according to McClure.
Congress and agencies should not think of a federal CIO as a panacea,
cautioned Gerald Knutson, vice president of communications and information
services at US West.Foundation for CIO success.