Looking for a leader

Despite countless debates, competing recommendations and even presidential support, there's still no federal chief information officer. Though all sides agree the need for a federal CIO is great and immediate, it's not clear who President Bush would nominate or how the CIO would fit into the power structure in Washington, D.C.

At least one politician, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) seems ready to tackle these issues. Like it or not, he may be the closest thing to an e-government leader in Washington right now. After all, he represents Virginia's tech-heavy 11th District. But as the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's new Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, Davis concedes his power to push through his e-gov agenda is limited. And his vision of e-government — which leans heavily on procuring the right tools to ease transactions between the federal government and its state and local counterparts — certainly will disappoint some advocates.

Even more disappointing is the former procurement lawyer's reluctance to take on the powers that be. Consider his ambitious vision for a Cabinet-level federal CIO. Before Davis even introduced his bill — which he failed to get through last year — he admitted chances for its passage are slim. Perhaps he's just pragmatic; the Bush administration reportedly prefers a more limited cio role within the Office of Management and Budget — one Davis has deemed inadequate.

There's much reform still to do, and a powerful federal CIO would help the government catch up to industry. Even at the Defense Department, where turf battles are legendary and costly, the Pentagon has recommended elevating the post to the level of undersecretary of Defense and giving the position control of up to 10 percent of the military's information technology budget.The goal is to give the DOD CIO enough power and fiscal clout to force the services to develop and buy compatible IT systems.

The federal CIO must have the same authority — maybe even more — to get the civilian agencies to follow suit. It would mean a turf fight and,as Davis said, those are never easy. But we're hoping he doesn't back down from a battle he hasn't begun to fight.


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