OMB: No call for IT czar

As the notion of naming an information technology czar gains ground, resistance

may be rising among the would-be sovereign's closest subjects.

Although members of Congress and some government agency officials promote

the plan for an electronic emperor, the Office of Management and Budget

wants to quash any coronation.

After all, senior OMB officials contend, there already is a de facto

IT czar, the "DDM." That's OMB's deputy director for management. And although

the post is technically vacant, some of the duties are being performed by

Sally Katzen, who was nominated for the position last June but has yet to

be confirmed by the Senate. Officially, Katzen is counselor to OMB director

Jacob Lew.

When asked April 19 whether she thought appointing a governmentwide

chief information officer was a good idea, Katzen made it clear she does

not.

"You need support from the top," she told a gathering of federal CIOs.

"It doesn't matter what the title is. You've got the DDM."

But the idea of appointing an IT czar to lead the government into the

electronic promised land has gained currency in recent months for several

reasons.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) have suggested

that a federal IT czar could speed up progress toward e-government, and

they have said they may introduce legislation to create the position.

The Democratic Leadership Council, meanwhile, is calling for an IT czar

who reports directly to the president and oversees a $500 million budget

for e-government projects.

Supporters are inspired by the successful computer transition into the

new year led by Year 2000 czar John Koskinen. And recent hacker attacks

and denial-of-service strikes against government and commercial World Wide

Web sites have highlighted computer security problems and convinced many

that a czar-led defense is in order.

Uncertainty about what exactly e-government is and how federal agencies

are going to achieve it also makes a czar with a vision and the authority

to implement it appealing.

"Koskinen was so successful as Y2K czar, everyone says we can replicate

that" to tackle problems such as computer security and privacy, Katzen said.

But Year 2000 was different, she said. It was a single problem that had

a definite date by which it had to be fixed.

Security, privacy and e-government services are broader issues and are

less suited to czar-imposed solutions, Katzen told agency CIOs and an audience

at last week's FOSE technology trade show.

Afterward, John Spotila, chief of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory

Affairs, said that before appointing a czar, government CIOs must better

determine what they are trying to accomplish and whether a czar is the right

way to do it.

"It's constructive to have this conversation," Spotila said. But a government-wide

CIO "is not a magic wand" that will easily solve all IT problems, he said.

The federal government has covered this ground before. In 1996, when

the Clinger-Cohen Act was being debated, it included a provision for a federal

CIO. The position was eliminated after strong opposition from OMB.

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