Wanted: A CIO with punch

By early next year, there will be a Homeland Security Department. The Bush administration and Congress have recognized that the times require a new kind of agency, one with agility and focus. As such, it must be an Information Age agency, where information is integrated across mission lines and where the power of information is reflected in the organization's mission and structure. Indeed, the administration's national strategy (www.white house.gov/homeland) reflects the importance of information availability and sharing on almost every page.

Critical to the department's success will be a strong chief information officer. Of the many factors that will influence success, three conditions should be negotiated by the new homeland security CIO before taking the job.

First, he or she should report directly to the department's secretary. The ability to call or see the secretary without an appointment — that is, to be and be perceived to be a member of the senior management team — is essential if the CIO is to exercise the full range of authorities under the Paperwork Reduction and Clinger-Cohen acts.

Second, the CIO should have policy and budgetary authority over information content and technology for the entire department. This authority should not be absolute, but the CIO must be able to set information access, sharing, security and technology standards and require that business cases make sense. The CIO would not control program areas that develop information but should have a strong voice in ensuring that information sharing programs end up being exactly that, rather than multiple and independent projects.

Third, CIO candidates should insist on line authority over directorate-level CIOs. Only a single, departmentwide information and technology team can produce a cohesive strategy and a well-connected organization. This is especially true where such diverse, long-established components are being combined.

These conditions are nothing new. As principles, they are contained in statute, are supported by the General Accounting Office and reflect the best practices of successful public- and private-sector organizations. As reality, they remain the exception in the federal government.

Creating a new department in law is the first step. As the rapid but rocky stand-up of the Transportation Security Administration shows, implementation is the hard part. The greatest challenge will be merging strongly established legacy cultures and systems.

One is reminded of the many person-years devoted by a dedicated cross-organizational team during a nine-month period in the comparatively simple merger of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. Information sharing requires trust, which takes time to build. The CIO must be a change agent in that process who has the tools to get the job done.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www. mcconnellinternational.com).

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