Drive IT with dollars, not dictates

The nation needs an information technology chief to oversee federal IT projects,

a presidential advisory committee has concluded. But instead of a controlling

"czar," the committee has called for a beneficent banker.

The President's Information Technology Advisory Committee recommends setting

up an Office for Electronic Government to try to better coordinate agencies'

IT projects and policies.

But the chief of the new office would not set IT priorities not through

czar-like dictates. Instead, the chief would be able to use an annual $100

million bankroll to encourage cooperation among agencies on IT research

projects, PITAC suggested in a report to be sent to the president and Congress.

The recommendation spelled out Wednesday is the latest in a spate of plans

to create a top-level government post and appoint a technology expert to

oversee federal computer projects.

Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to create a cabinet-level

post of federal chief information officer that would report to the president

and play a major role in setting the government's IT agenda.

Under the advisory committee's plan, there would be no CIO. The head of

the Office for Electronic Government would fill that role but would report

to the director of the Office of Management and Budget instead of the president.

With a soft touch and hard cash, the head of the Office for Electronic Government

would "promote innovative and cross-agency efforts," especially those that

offer no immediate payoff or are considered too experimental or risky.

The advisory council noted that the federal budget-planning process, in

which budgets are written agency-by-agency, makes it difficult to carry

out the kind of multiagency IT projects needed for effective electronic

government. And the year-to-year focus in federal budgeting discourages

agencies from planning long-term IT research and development projects that

do not yield short-term results.

But with $100 million per year to spend, the advisory council estimates

the Office for Electronic Government could fund 10 to 20 long-term research

projects each year.

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