Hill probes IT management

Four years after Congress passed a law requiring top IT managers to defend

spending tens of billion of dollars on information technology every year,

two senators have asked agencies to show how well they have complied.

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs

Committee, and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the committee's ranking member,

sent letters to 24 agencies early this month asking for details on how

they've responded to the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.

"It was really a question of looking at our agenda here on the committee,

and the things we were looking at, and realizing that it's been four years

since the passage of Clinger-Cohen," said a committee aide. "We really intend

this to be the first real hard look at the implementation of the act."

The committee has asked agencies to provide written responses, with

supporting documents, by May 18 and plans to hold hearings on the topic

once all the reports are in.

The committee's questions focus on Clinger-Cohen's central provisions:

the role of the CIO within the agency, the benefits received from IT capital

planning and investment, and the overall ability to link IT to specific

results.

Some of the questions are very detailed, following closely the steps

outlined in the act. For example, the senators ask agencies to identify

their top 10 IT investment initiatives, how they decided to make those investments

and how those investments have improved the agencies' ability to carry out

their missions.

"I think it is a very significant and reasonable manifestation of the

last year's looking at government as an entity that has to be performance-based

and accountable for results," said Bert Concklin, president of the Professional

Services Council. "The questions are excellent and are direct descendants

of the intent and the requirements set up in the Clinger-Cohen Act."

Agency executives said that while the new initiative would require a

lot of work, it was not unexpected.

"We consider the Clinger-Cohen Act that created the CIOs a very important

act, so it is not surprising that the Senate would look into what has happened

since it was passed," said Linda Massaro, CIO of the National Science Foundation.

"I'm real happy that they are looking at this," said Roger Baker, CIO

of the Commerce Department. "One of the issues that is out there is how

well agencies are really implementing the basics of Clinger-Cohen."

Though CIO offices only received the letter late last week, some agencies,

including the Education Department, have already given the committee staff

preliminary briefings.

Some of the larger department officials, who need to gather information

from many bureaus and centers, said they did not know if they could complete

the responses by the May 18 deadline.

But agencies should not see this as something to be afraid of, said

Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy

from 1993 to 1997 and now Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at

Harvard's Ken-nedy School of Government.

"CIOs should welcome this letter. It's for the good of all of us that

we take the management of IT as an investment seriously," he said. "I think

that folks in the agencies should see this as an opportunity. I don't see

this as a "gotcha' exercise, and the agencies should not treat it as such."

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