Congress, Katzen in CIO showdown

Members of a House subcommittee made it clear Tuesday they want an IT czar;

they're fed up with the IT queen.

Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) blasted Sally Katzen, the Clinton administration's

top information technology policy official, for presiding over government

computer systems that have earned a D-minus average on security tests and

for failing to halt work on failed, wasteful computer systems.

Katzen, deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget,

returned fire, blaming Congress for failing to adequately fund security

projects and faulting prior administrations for establishing flawed procurement

practices.

The showdown occurred during a hearing by the House Government Reform Committee's

Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, which Horn

chairs. The subject was whether the nation needs a chief information officer

or "IT czar."

Two bills have been introduced in the House and at least one is pending

in the Senate to create a cabinet-level post for a national CIO. The CIO

would be the chief policy-maker and adviser to the president on IT issues — a role Katzen claims to fill now as deputy director for management, with

help from OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who introduced one of the House bills, said that

OMB "simply is unable to devote the attention needed to carry out those

responsibilities as required by law."

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) author of the other House measure, reminded Katzen,

"You are trained as an attorney," not a computer specialist. "And you wear

many hats," he said, noting that Katzen has oversight responsibility for

many matters and serves on many policy-making boards.

"What we are trying to do is put someone with an IT background" in a position

to oversee the government's IT programs and policies, Turner said, adding

that naming a federal CIO will lead to better cross-agency coordination

of IT projects and faster progress toward digital government.

The hardest slap at Katzen came from Horn, who demanded to know why she

did not "pull the plug" earlier on hugely wasteful computer system purchases

by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

Rather than cancel the troubled systems, Katzen said, OMB ordered reviews

and discussed problems with agency chiefs. "We worked together. We're collegial,"

she said.

"Yeah," Horn replied, "collegial with taxpayers' money to the tune of $7

billion."

OMB stopped the programs "when it was clear to us that this was not the

way to go," Katzen said. She blamed prior administrations for establishing

purchasing practices under which agencies bought custom-built computer systems

that invariably came in over budget and so late they were obsolete. "We

changed that. It took time to turn it around," she said.

Horn asked why government computer systems overall received a grade of D-minus

in a recent security analysis by the General Accounting Office.

"We do not completely agree with the grades," Katzen said. She blamed Congress

for failing to fully fund computer security projects that the administration

has requested.

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