Commerce gives CIOs clout

Restructuring plan gives agency IT leaders more budget, workforce authority

The Commerce secretary has signed off on a restructuring plan to give the department's agency and bureau chief information officers more authority over information technology budgets, expenses and employees. The new technology management structure will ensure that any products and services the department buys work together and fit into an enterprisewide infrastructure. It makes the operating unit CIOs part of the management team and holds all employees involved in IT accountable for systems' performance.

"This really gives clout to CIOs across the department," said a Commerce official, speaking on background. "We have a very good CIO team, but not all have been officially recognized with the authority they need to get the job done." This change will make that happen, he said.

With this bold move, the Commerce Department "is in the lead" in taking action to ensure that IT investments are "well-structured and well-planned," he added.

Under the new structure, every operating unit in the department, such as the Census Bureau and the National Weather Service, will have a CIO who reports to the head of the operating unit. All operating units have named CIOs in anticipation of the new structure.

Meanwhile, every significant IT area within a unit will report to the CIO who, with the agreement of the operating unit director, will have the authority to sign off on the unit's IT budget and expenses.

In addition, those involved in IT will be evaluated in part on how well they manage those programs and investments, the Commerce official said. They will be responsible to "think of the end goals and what we're trying to do," not just about a specific software development project that they might be working on, for instance.

Moreover, the operating unit CIOs will help evaluate the performance of senior managers responsible for IT that's not directly under the CIO.

Earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans approved the plan, which former Commerce CIO Roger Baker originally proposed about two years ago. The plan changed slightly from its original incarnation. For example, the secretary decided against consolidating IT workers into a single structure.

The restructuring empowers the CIOs at the operating units, Baker said. "The head of the operating unit has control over the whole business but really puts an empowered CIO in charge of information technology," he said.

There has been a general trend in government toward giving the CIO more power, Baker said, citing the Internal Revenue Service CIO as an example. Still, the majority of agency CIOs don't have control over expenditures.

Many of the Commerce bureaus and agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, rely heavily on technology, Baker said. As a result, "managing those technologies well is fundamental to the mission of Commerce."

During the next 60 days, the operating units will develop their plans on how to implement this restructuring.

The move is "real positive," said Paul Brubaker, president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc., former deputy CIO at the Defense Department and an architect of the Clinger-Cohen Act, the law that created the CIO position.

The key, Brubaker said, is to "empower" CIOs—give them authority over budget, set clear objectives and, as a result, hold them responsible for the outcome. Managing for results is consistent with Clinger-Cohen, he added.

Although Brubaker said he hopes other departments will consider adopting Commerce's strategy, he warned against taking a one-size-fits-all approach. "Each department has to develop a scheme that works best for them," he said. "No [single] way is the perfect way."

MORE INFO

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans decided this month to create a new information

technology structure in the department. The move gives agency and bureau

chief information officers more clout. Some of the changes include:

* Each Commerce operating unit will have a CIO who will report to the

unit director.

* Each operating unit CIO will have the authority to sign off on the

unit's IT budget and expenses.

* Each operating unit CIO will help evaluate the performance of senior

managers responsible for IT that's not directly under the CIO.

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