Clinger-Cohen cards incomplete
- By Diane Frank
- Oct 29, 2000
Governmental Affairs Committee report
Although federal agencies are making progress with plans to rely better
on chief information officers and manage information technology, they have
not come far enough, according to a new congressional report.
The Clinger-Cohen Act, enacted in February 1996, created the CIO position
and put in place the basic guidelines for agencies to manage IT programs
and investments. But a report by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman
of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, has found that after four
years, agencies are still not using most of the procedures directed by the
Based on responses to letters sent in April with ranking committee member
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Thompson's report found many problems,
including that federal CIOs are still too often on the outskirts of agencies'
key decision-making and that few agencies have enacted comprehensive IT
capital planning and investment programs.
Clinger-Cohen requires agencies to develop a capital plan, set IT performance
goals and measures, document IT architectures, assess the skills of the
IT workforce and agency executives, and develop hiring and training plans
for IT workers.
The focus is on the implementation issues, and that is where agencies
are having problems, said Paul Brubaker, deputy CIO at the Defense Department
and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Outreach Committee.
Thompson could not be reached to discuss what plans he may have for
more oversight on the issue.
Although all the pieces of Clinger- Cohen have yet to be connected,
agencies do have short- and long-term plans for the future. The Justice
Department, for example, identified four areas of "future effort" for its
IT capital planning and investment process, including formalizing an annual
assessment of how IT is improving the department's operations.
Some of the problems stem from a basic feature of the IT market: people
moving around, especially CIOs, according to the report. Ten of the 24 major
agencies questioned by Thompson and his committee have had three or four
CIOs since the enactment of Clinger-Cohen.
This turnover is not unusual because private-sector companies experience
the same problem, and in fact many federal CIOs now come from the private
sector, according to the report. But "it presents a management challenge
to agencies that are trying to maintain sustained focus in and momentum
for ongoing IT projects," the report states.
The spotty level of CIO involvement and erratic agency program planning
make it hard for agencies to function as they should, Thompson wrote. The
quality of the data for the assessments of major IT investments...is questionable
at most agencies."
Even without clear and consistent leadership from the top, agencies
must install the management processes that Clinger-Cohen details. Thompson
makes 12 recommendations for agencies to comply with the law, ranging from
providing all agency CIOs with clear roles, responsibilities and authority
to setting procedures for CIOs and program managers to tell agency administrators
about the status of major IT projects.
In responding, some agencies argue they cannot fully comply with Clinger-Cohen
because of the environment in which they work. The Defense Department, for
example, said there is no executive-level IT capital planning and investment
review group as suggested by the law "because of the size and complexity
of the department." Instead, DOD's CIO sits on three of the department's
four investment review boards.
The report highlights many of the same concerns that CIOs have raised
in the past, which could help push more agency administrators to take action,
said Roger Baker, CIO at the Commerce Department. However, the recommendations
in the report do not provide more guidance for what actions to take than
did past General Accounting Office reports on the subject, he said.
"We need more specific recommendations than the ones that people are
willing to give at this point," Baker said. "The people who worked on this
[report] are 100 percent trying to do the right thing.... But in the end
what I'd really like them to do is come out and say, "Here's exactly what
you need to do.'"