Cohen: CIOs not viewed as thought leaders

Ten years after the Clinger-Cohen Act was signed into law, most agencies have chief information officers, but those CIOs have not evolved into the kind of strategic leaders that William Cohen, for one, had envisioned.

“I’m not sure the perception of a CIO is exactly what we would like it to be,” said Cohen, former senator and defense secretary. He is now chief executive officer of the Cohen Group. He spoke at an event co-sponsored by the Professional Services Council that assessed the impact of Clinger-Cohen Act from public and private perspectives.

CIOs' responsibilities often center on information technology and infrastructure at their agencies, but they should be working to integrate programs and taking a governmentwide approach to information. They should be making acquisition and IT more efficient and beneficial to agencies as they invest more than $60 billion in IT, Cohen said.

The Clinger-Cohen Act became law in 1996. It is widely viewed as the most significant legislative initiative to focus on government acquisition and IT use. The law mandated that agencies create CIO positions.

Several panelists said they believe CIOs have not attained the authority that lawmakers had intended.

Paul Brubaker, chairman and CEO of Procentrix, said agencies elevated many senior technology employees to CIO, even though the legislation intended them to be strategic advisers with an enterprisewide perspective.

Cohen said technology will not be the greatest challenge that agencies face in the next 10 years. Instead, it will be cultural.

Gene Dodaro, the Government Accountability Office’s chief operating officer, said the coming decades will bring booming government budgets as spending increases. Agencies’ CIOs will be under more pressure to find more efficient means of combating those numbers.

GAO’s simulations show escalating costs for health care as the population continues to age, thus changing the environment in which CIOs work.

Nevertheless, Dodaro said, the strain will demand that agency leaders give CIOs more authority to strategize with the different branches of the organization as they face tough situations.

“That means from the CIO’s perspective that there has to be lots of returns on investment, but it also raises an opportunity to leverage in their roles and responsibilities to advance themselves in the management teams within the departments and agencies,” Dodaro said.

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