Visionaries wanted

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"An IT cure-all"

The management and procurement reforms of the mid-1990s removed the fear

of retribution that kept many government employees from taking risks or

suggesting new ways of managing programs.

Those changes also paved the way for the arrival of several federal

IT visionaries in the past five years. The latest to hit the scene is Brian

Burns, deputy chief information officer at the Department of Health and

Human Services.

In the past two years, Burns has developed what he calls Enterprise

Infrastructure Management — a rather bureaucratic term for an innovative

system that would break the old-style governmental stove-pipes that make

managing and developing federal information technology systems so difficult.

Using EIM, a CIO or other technology manager would tap IT strategies — such as knowledge management, security event management and software distribution — to feed data about departmentwide computer systems and security to a

central location — perhaps a CIO office.

That approach would give the department an unprecedented view of all

its networks and systems, making it easier to identify economies of scale

that could save money.

And armed with departmentwide IT data, the agency would be in a better

position to meet the requirements of Clinger-Cohen, as well as such White

House directives as turning paper forms into electronic documents and protecting

critical systems from cyberattacks.

A tall order? Sure. But that's missing the point. Even if his management

scheme doesn't work out, Burns has become part of an august group trying

to move an intractable government out of old, dysfunctional management strategies

and into new ways to improve the way government works.

At a time when agencies have a difficult time attracting and retaining

good IT talent, Burns — and others like him who believe government IT can

be improved through better practices — is a find. We can only hope that

others will be encouraged to step forward with new ideas.

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