Keep CIO, comptroller apart

The Defense Department is considering a much-needed reorganization of the chief information officer duties. The leading scenario, and the source of much recent speculation, involves placing the CIO within the comptroller's office. That would be a colossal mistake. The CIO organization must work with the comptroller's office, not under it.

The legislative intent in creating a CIO was for that person to be independent of any other organization within a department or agency so that information resources management could be the CIO's primary duty. It was also envisioned that the CIO would have a seat at the management table alongside the chief financial officer (i.e., the comptroller) and the chief operating officer.

The CIO is also tasked under the Clinger-Cohen Act with leading process change. Under the comptroller's wing, the CIO would lose the independence to perform that function — a serious problem, because process change is something the comptroller's office desperately needs but has failed to achieve.

Controlling the purse strings gives the comptroller's office great power and authority. For example, an attempt by Congress and the DOD CIO office to stop an accounting system that was high-risk, over-budget and behind schedule was overturned because "that's what the comptroller wanted." Clearly, any CIO under the comptroller could not effectively oversee any financial systems, let alone successfully advocate reforming DOD's antiquated financial systems.

A third reason to keep the CIO independent is that the comptroller's civilian leadership is loath to reform. Two anecdotes support that contention. Several months ago, while serving as the deputy CIO within DOD, I had just completed a high-level briefing on the need for transforming the existing major management processes at the Pentagon. The highest-ranking civilian in the comptroller's shop stopped me and said, "That [transformation] stuff may work in the private sector, but that's not how we do business in the Pentagon."

Just a few weeks later, another senior official in the office said, "The current budget planning system has served the department well for the last 40 years." The comptroller has also constantly rejected budget requests required to implement Clinger-Cohen at DOD.

The comptroller's shop has a history of hostility toward innovation. Had the CIO shop been housed inside the comptroller's shop during consideration of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet proj-ect, neither it nor any other innovation would have occurred.

One of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's major priorities is to change the antiquated processes at the department. So it is possible that new leadership may be able to overcome the resisters of change throughout the organization. But this will take a dogged tenacity and commitment from the top.

Most importantly, it will take an independent CIO organization working with the comptroller rather than under it.

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

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