Editorial: A familiar refrain

In Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Marcellus warns that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. After reading the results of FCW Media Group's survey of federal, state and local chief information officers, you might declare that something is rotten in government, particularly among CIOs.

The survey's most obvious finding is that public CIOs do not stay in their jobs for very long, usually less than two years. If experience holds true, most of those people take their talents to the private sector. That is not an inherent problem. In fact, you could argue that having people go back and forth between the public and private sectors is good for both. In general, many go forth but few come back.

The real question is why CIOs look for the first opportunity to jump ship. Or to be more blunt, why do they stay as long as they do?

Many information technology executives tacitly acknowledge that CIOs might have some of the worst jobs in government. They are burdened with responsibility yet have little, if any, real authority. The idea behind the Clinger-Cohen Act, the seminal law that created the CIO post, was that IT executives would be an integral part of the agency's management team. By extension, that was supposed to represent the larger role -- the integral role -- that IT plays in allowing agencies to accomplish their missions.

Yet in most agencies today, the CIO is still seen as "an IT guy." The Homeland Security Department has been a poster child for this systemic IT mismanagement. Even today, the agency's organizational chart does not list the CIO. Unfortunately, many other agencies do largely the same thing. They just don't do it in quite such a visceral way.

CIOs are responsible for an expansive range of issues. Beyond the daily responsibility of maintaining operational systems, they have a critical role in issues ranging from information sharing to security, financial systems to records management, interoperability to privacy, and even accessibility. Remember Section 508?

We have said it before, but we say it again: The role of the CIO should matter. CIOs need the power, the authority and the visibility to do their jobs. In short, they need a seat at the table.

In the end, that may affect the tenure of most CIOs, but it is an important step in developing systems that work governmentwide.

-- Christopher J. Dorobek

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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