Putting the CTO to work

The Bush administration improved the odds for the success of its e-government agenda last month with the appointment of Norman Lorentz as chief technology officer for the Office of Management and Budget. But defining the role of the CTO will be as difficult as many of the management challenges that OMB faces.

Lorentz acknowledged the matter when he described his role as a support function, providing technological assistance to agency executives heading the 24 e-government initiatives. "As chief technology officer, I own none of the technology," he said.

Lorentz, like his boss, Mark Forman, holds somewhat more sway than his comments might suggest, because he works for OMB, through which all funding requests must pass. Yet agencies can be fiercely independent at times, checking the boxes that must be checked — in particular with policies that OMB intends to enforce — but going no further.

Much of the management discipline that Forman is trying to bring to e-government depends on the active participation, not just acquiescence, of individual agencies. OMB, for example, can use the budgeting process to compel agencies to develop sound security strategies for their programs, but it cannot ensure those strategies are well-executed.

As CTO, Lorentz is banking on the same approach. He thinks he can help agencies work together to solve common problems, but that's true only if they want to be helped.

It would be a shame to see Lorentz on the sidelines, as the CTO adds an important dimension to OMB's e-government strategy. Until now, OMB has focused on the management issues, such as eliminating redundancies and developing security policies. By appointing a CTO, OMB is recognizing the technical challenges these projects engender.

Agencies should view Lorentz as an advocate, one who does not impose rules but helps solve problems.

In any case, Lorentz does not have it easy. OMB is asking a lot by insist.ing that agencies work together on e-government projects, and technology is only one potential pitfall. But Lorentz, at least, has an opportunity to improve his own chances of success.

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