Defense CIO seeks a promotion

The office of the Pentagon's chief information officer will recommend to

the new administration that the CIO post be elevated to the level of undersecretary

of Defense, with control of up to 10 percent of the military's information

technology budget.

The proposal, which has not been made public and has yet to gain the

nod from Defense Secretary William Cohen, also would at least double the

annual budget for the CIO to about $100 million. Defense Department spokeswoman

Susan Hansen was unable to comment on the plan.

The recommendations are intended to crystallize the Pentagon's vision

for what the CIO's role should be, said one official familiar with the proposal.

The vision includes achieving so-called interoperability β€” the seamless

flow of information, particularly among the military services. The department

has grappled for years with interoperability; some experts say this struggle

is exacerbated by each service's legal authority to buy its own equipment,

including information systems.

"Right now it's like the Wild West," one official said. "The services

buy whatever the hell they want to buy, and then the CIO is responsible

under the law for interoperability. The CIO position needs to be elevated

to the undersecretary level so that he will have parity with major stakeholders."

Giving the CIO control of up to 10 percent of IT funding would allow

the office to offer incentives for buying joint information systems and

to fund critical programs. Official estimates of DOD's annual IT budget

range from $12 billion to $15 billion annually, but are not considered


"I haven't got a clue how much we spend on [command, control, communications,

computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]," Art Money, the

Pentagon CIO, said recently. "I would guess it's in the area of $75 billion

to $100 billion β€” roughly a quarter to a third of the budget β€” but if you

asked me to prove it, there's no way in hell I can."

Elevating the CIO to an undersecretary with budget authority would provide

the clout intended under the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, said Anthony Valletta,

former acting assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications

and intelligence and now an executive at SRA International Inc., Fairfax,


"It would really put the position where I believe the Clinger-Cohen

Act intended it to be, which is at the table with the secretary of Defense.

If anything's going to shoot it down, it's going to be the politics," Valletta


Because the Pentagon is legally authorized to have four undersecretaries

and 11 assistant secretaries, Congress would have to approve the move. A

similar attempt in 1997 failed, Valletta said, because it "never got past

the political arguments." Still, with the increasing focus on IT, and more

lawmakers and Pentagon leaders interested in cyber issues, the time might

be right, he noted.

One expert said the recommendations will still fall short of the needed

goal, so long as the individual services retain the authority to purchase

their own information systems.

"If we're going to have a CIO worthy of the name, he has to have the

authority to really direct things, and to give him control of 10 percent

of the [IT] budget sounds like tithing," said Ken Allard, a former Army

officer and vice president for Stratfor Inc.

Raising the CIO's budget to $100 million a year is needed just to "do

the fundamental stuff" and to eliminate "ambiguity about who controls the

IT investment function," one official said. At present, that authority tilts

between the CIO office and DOD's acquisition, technology and logistics office.


  • Image: Shutterstock

    COVID, black swans and gray rhinos

    Steven Kelman suggests we should spend more time planning for the known risks on the horizon.

  • IT Modernization
    businessman dragging old computer monitor (Ollyy/

    Pro-bono technologists look to help cash-strapped states struggling with legacy systems

    As COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in state and local government IT systems, the newly formed U.S. Digital Response stepped in to help.

Stay Connected