Do we need an IT czar?

Prepare the way for the information technology czar. There is growing support

in Congress for one, a presidential advisory committee recommends one, and

presidential candidate George W. Bush wants one. Every time a security breach

occurs, many politicians and government IT experts line up to call for one.

The Clinton administration doesn't like the idea, but that opposition

is widely viewed as a temporary impediment. And considering that the federal

government spends upwards of $40 billion or so each year on information

technology, a lot of people in senior IT positions in government say it

is time to put someone clearly in charge.

Compare the relative electronic anarchy that reigns in the federal government

today with the efficient electronic government that is technically feasible,

and the situation cries out for a czar. "Twenty-five percent of what we

spend [on information technology] is wasted," estimates Roger Baker, chief

information officer at the Commerce Department and one of the first top-level

federal IT managers to publicly call for a federal CIO.

Today, every major federal agency has its CIO, its IT budget and its

vision of the future, however vague. "There's no common strategy, there's

no common approach, we're all re-inventing the wheel, and once in a while

we compare notes on whether it should be round or square," he said. "We

have a zillion data centers and a zillion help desks."

With such rampant duplication and disjointed IT endeavors, the result

often is an online service of limited utility. Under a strong, central IT

administrator, "it wouldn't have developed that way," Baker said.

But don't say the government needs a "czar." That word evokes the wrong

image, Baker said. "This is a management issue." It calls for a "federal

CIO," he said. Even so, what Baker and others describe is an information

officer of imperial proportion.

A federal CIO should be knowledgeable enough to tackle technical issues

such as security and privacy, skilled at handling management problems such

as personnel shortages, wise in solving social quandaries such as the digital

divide and politically astute enough to satisfy Congress and the president.

He or she must also find a diplomatic way to impel agency chiefs into the

Information Age.

And the job needs clout, said George Molaski, CIO for the Transportation

Department. The federal CIO should be a cabinet-level position so the CIO

has direct access to the president. "He should be a special assistant to

the president," he said. "We don't need a new department."

"Obviously, a CIO needs a good deal of familiarity with information

technology," said Herbert Schorr of the President's Information Technology

Advisory Committee, which is preparing a report for President Clinton that

will call for appointing a federal CIO. "It would be delightful to get a

good person out of one of the agencies. That way he would already know his

way around government. Otherwise, you would have someone with a year or

two learning curve."

Into the Breach

The idea for a governmentwide CIO got its start in calls for a federal

cybersecurity chief. The increasing number and severity of hacker attacks

on federal and private Web sites and federal information systems — last

year's "Melissa" virus, an e-mail attachment that lowered security settings;

denial-of-service attacks this year against Yahoo, eBay and other e-commerce

sites; and last month's "love bug," which attacked e-mail systems and stole

passwords — have convinced many federal IT officials that a federal cybersecurity

officer is needed.

"Our cross-government efforts in computer security are not adequate

today," said John Gilligan, chief information officer at the Energy Department

and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Security, Privacy and Critical Infrastructure

Committee. "There needs to be some consistent and influential authority."

The General Accounting Office has recommended that a federal CIO be

appointed, but such a person would lead the management of all government

IT, which leaves very little time to deal with the complicated issue of

security. "Computer security, I think, is one of the top issues that needs

to be addressed," said Jack Brock, director of governmentwide and defense

information systems at GAO. "And computer security right now is just too

big a problem for a national CIO."

Brock believes many security issues are best dealt with at the agency

level, by the manager of a particular system. "First and foremost, [security]

is the responsibility of the people who own the systems; that is the first

line of responsibility and it should be the last line," Brock said.

The Government Information Security Act of 1999, which awaits a Senate

vote, proposes that the deputy director for management at the Office of

Management and Budget take on a more fully defined role as coordinator of

agency security practices.

During the last four years, the Clinton administration has created groups

such as the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office to deal with governmentwide

security issues, but by law OMB has responsibility for security, and many

feel that is the way it should stay.

"You are better off giving extra responsibility to the people who are

already responsible...and in that case, the right place is OMB for security

management because OMB has responsibility for all IT management," said Bruce

McConnell, former head of the Information Policy and Technology Branch at

OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and now president of

the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm McConnell International LLC.

The Electronic Government Factor

Following the same line of logic, the Clinton administration has been

opposed to appointing a federal CIO. Rather than a czar, the Clinton administration

prefers enhancing individual agency CIOs' authority, said Sally Katzen,

counselor to the director of OMB. "They know best what the needs are," she

said.

As proof, she points to government Web sites that offer the ability

to file tax returns electronically, reserve campsites at national parks

and apply for federal student loans. FedStats.gov provides a single address

for finding a wide array of federal statistics, and another site, launched

in April by the Federal Aviation Administration, offers up-to-the-minute

weather- related flight information at 40 major U.S. airports.

Furthermore, the administration is developing a single Internet portal

for procurement and a portal where exporters can apply for the permits they

need to ship goods overseas.

But public demand for electronic services will only increase and could

overwhelm agencies — in much the same way that e-commerce has created a

crisis mentality in the private sector, according to Stephen Rohleder, a

managing partner and government IT specialist for Andersen Consulting.

The fastest-growing cohort of Internet users are 55-year-olds to 65-year-olds,

Rohleder said. People in this age group are also the largest users of government

services and among the most steadfast voters. They are rapidly becoming

accustomed to an expanding array of commercial services online, and their

expectations are growing, Rohleder said.

"They are able to buy groceries, clothing, even cars online," he said.

"Soon they will begin asking, "Why can't I get my government services that

way?' And in two to four years, they will be voting that way," he forecasts.

Creating a federal CIO position "is absolutely critical," he said. "There

is a real unique opportunity for the next administration to redefine" how

government services are delivered to the public.

Chris Caine, vice president for governmental programs at IBM Corp.,

also believes government has yet to match the level of services and e-commerce

offered in the private sector. He said a federal CIO "may be helpful, but

it is not sufficient."

Rather, government should focus on re-engineering so that agencies can

make better use of technology to conduct more Web-based transactions with

the public and businesses, Caine said. "The objective is to transform an

Industrial Age government into an Information Age government, and that involves

re-engineering. It's hard, real hard." IBM struggled through the process

several years ago, "under the considerably more threatening conditions of

the marketplace," he said.

The Name Doesn't Matter

Re-engineering requires leadership from the top, of course, but perhaps

more important is an understanding at all levels of the benefits that technology

and the Internet offer for making government work better.

"To really make e-government work, we need to find ways to do government-wide

and intergovernmental IT projects," said James Flyzik, CIO of the Treasury

Department and vice chairman of the CIO Council.

The council recognized that electronic government needed a government-wide

push and so created an e-government committee, Flyzik said. "But the fact

of the matter is the CIO Council does not control resources," he said. "Money

is appropriated to the agencies," and it is "extremely difficult" to convince

them to spend their money on IT proj-ects they do not solely control, Flyzik

said.

He added that a higher authority, above the level of an agency CIO,

is needed, "but I stop short of saying whether that should be an individual,

the CIO Council or the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget."

Whoever ends up overseeing the development of federal IT, "they must

have a voice at the table in budget decisions," Flyzik insists. With a measure

of influence over government IT spending, a federal CIO should be able to

approach e-government problems from a functional perspective, rather than

from the agency or departmental perspective that prevails today, DOT's Molaski

said.

That would be an essential change, most e-government visionaries agree.

To understand why, consider a typical citizen seeking information and services

online from the federal government. Should he or she have to struggle to

locate the right agency or the right department within an agency? Or should

electronic links tie related information and services together across agency

boundaries, providing individuals with relatively effortless access?

For now, to the extent that government services are online, they are

not linked. That has already begun to create a problem, said Kathleen deLaski,

group director for editorial products, government and politics at America

Online.

AOL's online government guide, which it created earlier this year, received

about 13 million page views in April, and hits are increasing 100 percent

a month, deLaski told a congressional committee in May. "We're starting

to drive traffic to government information and applications," she said.

"But because agencies are not coordinated in their efforts to present

more online offerings, it is difficult for AOL to approach government in

a holistic fashion," deLaski said. "We need to work with government agencies,

but that is difficult when each one is doing its own thing." Agencies are

reluctant to invest the resources or exercise the political will necessary

"to revolutionize their customer relationship," she said.

With or without an IT czar, federal agencies "must recognize that a

new system needs to be created to address the challenge" of e-government,

she said. "We've tried for a couple of years to make things work within

the existing system. If this revolution that has been mandated [by federal

law] is going to work," the federal government will have to do better.

Waiting in the Wings

That may be more authority than would be granted to a federal CIO under

the legislation pending in Congress. Rep. James Turner (D-Texas) introduced

a bill June 15 to create the post of chief information officer of the United

States.

Turner's CIO would be a cabinet-level adviser to the president, chairman

of the federal CIO Council and keeper of a $4.7 billion nest egg for funding

IT projects that cross agency boundaries. The CIO's job would be to "ensure

that the federal government is not left behind in the technology revolution,"

Turner said. "In order to build a working e-government, we need to focus

the government's attention on its use of information technology."

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has promised to appoint

a "chief information officer for the federal government" if he is elected

president.

Bush's CIO would oversee IT projects involving multiple federal agencies

and between federal and state agencies. To do so, he would control a $100

million fund for financing IT proj-ects. Bush said he would issue an executive

order making the deputy director for management at OMB the federal CIO.

Bush's CIO would be responsible for leading and coordinating the transition

to "truly digital, citizen-centric government." Vice President Al Gore

has not weighed in on the issue.

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