Strassmann: Make CIO equal to CFO

Acting NASA Chief Information Officer Paul Strassmann wants to see the next generation of CIOs elevated to the status of chief financial officers.

The CIOs of the future must function strategically, creating and protecting knowledge — not physical assets such as computers and software, Strassmann told the attendees at a March 19 luncheon sponsored by the Washington, D.C., chapter of AFCEA International.

"The primary job of a CIO is power politics," he said. "The game is not technology any more. From now on, it is a game about budget."

Few CIOs, however, can win the political game because there are hardly any accepted practices and even emerging rules cannot keep pace with information technology, Strassmann said. Further weakening their role is the limited control they have over allocations, he added.

CFOs, meanwhile, have accounting principles and must qualify for their positions through accreditation and certification, Strassmann noted. They sit at the table during all budgetary decisions, he said.

Strassmann would like to see CIOs join them there. He envisions a time when both parties will sign off on financial statements.

He offered Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, as an example of a strategy CIO, the type others should aspire to.

But even Forman — whose devotion to e-government Strassmann hailed — must get more money to back his vision, he said.

"The CIOs must start viewing themselves as general officers whose purpose is to maintain the overwhelming lead of the United States of America in the applications of [IT]," he concluded. "The legitimacy of the political power of strategic CIOs is therefore a matter of national importance, not exclusively a matter of personal career."

Strassmann based his advice on his extensive experience in the IT arena. At the Pentagon, he was adviser to the DOD deputy secretary and, later, director of Defense information.

Strassmann also has served as CIO for General Foods Corp., Kraft Foods Inc. and Xerox Corp.

Strassman plans to leave NASA, but there is no word yet on his departure date or his successor, officials said.

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