Building a blueprint for agency CIOs

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,

he said.

"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.


GAO's six principles of CIO management in leading organizations:

* Recognize the role of information management in creating value.

* Position the CIO for success.

* Ensure the credibility of the information management organization.

* Measure success and demonstrate results.

* Organize information management to meet business needs.

* Develop information management human capital.


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