- By Colleen O'Hara, John Monroe
- May 22, 2000
What role will future agency chief information officers fill? A lot depends
on the new presidential administration and how involved it is in choosing
the next generation of CIOs. But most observers agree that the role of the
CIO needs to, and most likely will, change.
"Very few CIOs have had a true seat at the table," said Paul Brubaker,
acting deputy CIO at the Defense Department, speaking at a Federal Sources
Inc.'s Outlook 2001 conference in Falls Church, Va., this month. "Very few
have operational responsibility, and very few have a role in the decision-making
process [or] the budget process of an agency."
Brubaker helped draft the Clinger- Cohen Act of 1996, which created
the agency CIO position. The intent of the law, he said, was to hire CIOs
who were focused on process and the core missions of agencies, not on information
technology. But many CIOs have been senior information resources management
officials who were elevated to CIO, and few report to agency leaders, Brubaker
"For some reason we got sucked back into the abyss where we're worried
about issues such as bandwidth," Brubaker said. Industry, not agencies,
should be concerned about the technology issues, he said. "Interoperability
should not be my problem, it should be your problem. You should tell me
how you will make your system interoperable with mine."
Brubaker said he does not think "we have people in the right level in
the organization with the right knowledge, skills and abilities to really
make a big difference." However, the Office of Management and Budget has
an opportunity to exert its leadership in this area in terms of screening
the next generation of CIOs and placing them at the right levels in agencies,
Meanwhile, Congress is looking at the possibility of amending Clinger-Cohen
in an effort to revisit some of the management aspects of the law, a process
that would reinvigorate the position, Bru- baker predicted. Clinger-Cohen
"needs a shot in the arm," he said.
Some believe that for CIOs to be most effective, they must be part of
a team, especially now that IT plays an essential part of delivering an
agency's mission. The right team could mean the success or failure of an
agency's projects, said Joseph Leo, Agriculture Department CIO. Program
managers are starting to realize that technology is critically important
to the delivery of services, and as a result, IT is no longer considered
"It's the team that's going to be successful, in my view," Leo said,
adding that teams could be made up of the CIO, program manager and chief
financial officer, for example. "Don't try to look for a CIO that has finance,
technology and program knowledge and experience. Search for the team."
The CIO will never master the intricacies of finance and the program
manager will never master the intricacies and sophistication of technology,
Leo said. "The team will," he said.
Some agencies already are finding that the team approach works. At the
Internal Revenue Service, the agency's IT and business staffs formed a close
alliance, then extended that alliance to other areas. The two staffs began
working together several years ago on the Compliance Data Warehouse, which
the agency used to identify cases in which people were not paying their
full taxes, either by mistake or on purpose.
Since that time, "things have gone much more smoothly and much more
rapidly than they had in the past," said Wayne Thomas, IRS deputy chief
For example, in November 1999, the IRS approached its IT shop about
developing an application to tap into a database at the Department of Health
and Human Services to identify parents who were behind on child support
In the past, the IRS' demand to have the application in place by March — in time for this year's tax season — would have been a problem. But because
of the close working relationship between the IT and business staffs, they
were able to work it out, said Robert Albicker, IRS deputy CIO for systems,
speaking at the FCW Media Group CIO Summit in Savannah,
Ga., this month.