Giving CIOs the purse strings

Chief information officers in the public and private sectors have something in common: Control of the IT budget is key to success.

Private-sector CIOs are considered important to the success of the enterprise and typically control a significant portion of the company's information technology budget. As a result, these CIOs successfully manage their information infrastructures, and they play key roles in transforming their organizations.

By contrast, few federal CIOs — despite heroic efforts — have any real control of agency IT budgets, and therefore find it hard to improve information infrastructure. Most agencies are trying to apply Information Age applications to an ad hoc infrastructure that evolved over time. As a result, they can't exercise discipline across the enterprise.

Without discipline, users buy what-ever configuration the local IT office deems appropriate. That reduces the effectiveness of IT systems agencywide and may contribute to the security vulnerabilities of networks.

CIOs must have some control over the agency's IT budget and infrastructure to realize the benefits of the Information Age, to improve infrastructure efficiency and to raise the stature of the CIO position to what was envisioned in the Clinger-Cohen Act. We must provide CIOs the status that has been, to quote Winston Churchill, "so long deserved and so long denied."

One way to give CIOs more status would be to give them control over 20 percent of their agency's IT budget, phased in over a five-year period and earmarked for infrastructure. Perhaps additional monies could be earmarked for high- value projects, such as specific applications related to developing travel- management or human resources systems. CIO offices would be responsible for managing the capital planning and investment control process, architectures, interoperability of systems and compliance with Clinger-Cohen, and also for acquiring and maintaining the agency's underlying infrastructure.

The infrastructure responsibilities would include all network connectivity,, security, help-desk support and operations centers agencywide. Moreover, the CIO would provide the standard configuration for the entire organization. Users could acquire workstations from a number of suppliers, which would be required to sell workstations that meet the organization's configuration requirements.

That way, functional owners — finance, human resources, mission- specific functions — could develop applications, with CIO approval, and know that these applications are supported by the underlying infrastructure and meet requirements. Functional operators would realize the benefits of Information Age applications that ride on a modern, robust, reliable and secure infrastructure.

Giving CIOs that much clout would make the government operate more like the private sector. More importantly, it would produce the results envisioned under Clinger-Cohen.

Brubaker is president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc., a former deputy chief information officer at DOD and an architect of the Clinger-Cohen Act.

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