HHS head downgrades CIO post

HHS Office of Information Resources Management

When the Department of Health and Human Services secretary reorganized the department's senior management this month, he lowered the position of the chief information officer one step and reduced its clout.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Oct. 4 named Ed Sontag to the new post of assistant secretary for administration and management so that a single official can focus entirely on President Bush's management agenda, according to a statement from Thompson.

Sontag's position and the yet-to-be named assistant secretary for budget, technology and finance were created after Thompson split the previous job of assistant secretary for management and budget into two separate roles.

The old assistant secretary was also HHS' chief information officer and chief financial officer. The assistant secretary for budget, technology and finance will maintain the title of CFO, but according to a directive from Thompson acquired by Federal Computer Week, that person will manage the CIO, but not hold that position.

Dennis Williams has been the acting assistant secretary for management and budget since the beginning of the year, with Janet Hale named as the nominee in May. Guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget in 1996 on how to implement the Clinger-Cohen Act states that "the person selected [as CIO] should report to the agency head directly, and not through another official."

But under the new structure, the CIO is clearly a step below the new assistant secretary, and it remains unclear whether the HHS CIO position will maintain its political status.

HHS is one of three federal agencies where the deputy CIO performs the daily functions of the position as outlined under Clinger-Cohen because, as assistant secretary, the CIO serves in more than one position.

Having the "real" CIO reporting to someone other than the agency head is not that unusual, according to a former federal IT official who asked not to be named. In fact, the CIO position is "all over the map" in agencies today, the official said.

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