Sprehe: Promises not yet fulfilled

Clinger-Cohen has been a major step forward in government management

The Clinger-Cohen Act, also called the Information Technology Management Reform Act, deserves a look back over its decade of life.

The law consists of three major features: capital planning and investment control, performance-based and results-based management, and establishment of the chief information officer position.

The Office of Management and Budget has done a good job of carrying out the law. OMB officials have forcefully insisted that agencies improve their capital planning and investment control processes. But the Government Accountability Office recently faulted OMB for not analyzing IT investments on a governmentwide basis and not following up with corrective measures. Performance-based management is now a prominent feature of OMB's budget circular, and agencies scurry in step. Although making the CIO job really effective is a fuzzy mandate, all federal agencies now include the position.

Capital planning machinery, a major element of the law, is used by most agencies. But whether it works is another matter.

Performance-based management and measurement perhaps have fared better because OMB has wielded the big stick of budget control. Agencies come to heel at OMB's command, but the purpose of Clinger-Cohen was to institutionalize those provisions. Take away OMB's pressure and what would become of agencies' performance-based management?

The CIO position has had mixed success. Federal CIOs, almost all from IT backgrounds, fixate on IT management at a time when industry is saying: "It's the information, stupid, not the technology." One-third of CIOs do not report to their agency's head, as prescribed by the law. Turnover is also a problem. CIOs generally last about two years, but experienced leaders say CIOs need three to five years to make a difference.

However, CIOs do concentrate on capital planning and investment controls, enterprise architecture, strategic planning, security, and workforce planning. Yet they lack attention to records management, privacy and information dissemination — all important information management concerns.

The question is this: Has Clinger-Cohen become part of the fabric of how agencies do business? Have capital planning and performance-based management become routine methods for approaching and solving problems? Will CIOs emerge as uniformly strong enterprise information management leaders who also keep the technology trains running on time? Probably not for a long time.

On balance, Clinger-Cohen has been a major step forward in government management. The law attempted to achieve some highly laudable — but difficult — culture-changing improvements. Everyone knows that nothing is more resistant to change than bureaucratic culture. The law was worth the effort, but one wonders if the concepts behind Clinger-Cohen have the staying power to see the job through until done.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.

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