CIOs feel they have more clout

Chief information officers at dozens of federal agencies say they believe they are gradually gaining influence among their agencies' top decision-makers. However, they say they still lack adequate authority over budgets and agency organization.

In response to a survey, 37 senior information technology executives at civilian and defense agencies said they had more frequent and better-quality access to their agency chiefs during 2000. Some said they thought their stature had improved because they successfully managed the dreaded Year 2000 computer date rollover problem. Others attributed the change to agency reorganizations.

The reports of rising stature among CIOs emerged during an annual survey conducted by the Information Technology Association of America. CIOs were interviewed last summer, thus their opinions do not reflect changes under way among senior agency appointees due to the transition between presidental administrations.

For example, most of the CIOs surveyed said they favored appointing a cabinet-level federal CIO to focus the federal government's IT agenda and manage a budget for achieving IT goals. But the Bush administration ruled out creating such a position. Instead, senior Bush officials propose giving a deputy director in the Office of Management and Budget collateral duty as federal IT chief.

The same multitasking arrangement existed under President Clinton. When surveyed in 1999, most agency CIOs did not favor appointing a federal CIO, but by mid-2000, "a solid majority" concluded that a strong federal CIO was needed to generate the support —and funding—needed to make electronic government a reality, said Paul Wohlleben, who headed the ITAA survey. Wohlleben, a former agency CIO, is a partner in the accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP.

Other key findings from the survey were:

Information assurance and security are top concerns, but technology solutions, such as public-key infrastructure and authentication, are not ready for widespread use. Workforce problems are imminent. In some agencies, up to half of the IT workforce will be eligible to retire in five years, but government pay and benefits do little to attract new workers. Agencies may opt to rely on outside contractors, but contractors, too, face workforce shortages. More CIOs now endorse an enterprisewide approach to infrastructure. Besides providing economies of scale, enterprisewide management provides greater control, which is seen as critical to security, Wohlleben said.

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