Make way for the IT czar
Roger Baker, chief information officer at the Commerce Department, ignited
a fierce debate last October when he publicly endorsed the idea of establishing
a federal CIO, often referred to as an "IT czar." A half-year later, the
question "Do we need an IT czar?" continues to spark controversy, even as
support for it steadily grows.
The question is moot. We need an IT czar. Even its opponents tacitly
acknowledge this in their arguments. The question is how to make the concept
Security is a case in point. A federal CIO, proponents say, could coordinate
agencies' efforts to recognize and respond to increasing threats to the
government's critical information systems. Likewise with e-government initiatives.
The federal CIO could play a central role in applications that draw on information
and services from multiple agencies.
People who oppose the concept of a federal CIO do not argue against
the need for such leadership. They argue that a federal CIO is unnecessary
because such leadership is available through organizations such as the Office
of Management and Budget and the CIO Council.
Indeed, OMB, chartered with overseeing agency budgets, appears to be
in the perfect spot to provide and enforce guidance on a wide range of technology
issues. Historically, the deputy director of management at OMB has filled
But the growing call for a federal CIO — heard in Congress, supported
by the General Accounting Office and picked up by presidential candidate
George W. Bush — suggests that many people have decided that OMB does not
have the resources, or perhaps even the credibility among agencies, to carry
out the job.
That is not to say that OMB has somehow abdicated the job. But given
the complexity of the issues at hand, the job may overwhelm OMB's resources.
The administration appeared to support that when it appointed a Year 2000
czar outside the auspices of OMB.
Opponents are right about one thing: It won't be easy to give the position
the authority to carry out the tasks at hand without undermining the work
of agency CIOs, OMB and key players.
With that said, let's move forward and begin the real task of figuring
out how to make the idea work.