Buzz of the Week

Be careful what you ask for

It is often said that chief information officers are seeking a seat at the vaunted table, referring to the table of agency decision-makers.

Last week, Homeland Security Department CIO Scott Charbo may have been given something better -- the power of the purse.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, speaking last week to the Northern Virginia Technology Council, announced that under a mandate "each DHS component will be required to submit its IT budget to the CIO, who will make recommendations to me for final inclusion in the department's budget request." Furthermore, any IT acquisition of more than $2.5 million will have to first be approved by the department's Enterprise Architecture Board to ensure that it is aligned with the agency's enterprise architecture and then submitted to the CIO for approval.
Finally, the DHS CIO will approve the hiring of component CIOs and set and approve their performance plans, ratings and annual award compensation.

Be careful what you ask for.

This is only the second agency to give the CIO the power of the purse. While DHS' decision comes from the secretary, the Department of Veterans Affairs CIO, Robert Howard, has control over all IT spending by law. And both agencies will be under intense scrutiny to see how well this works.

During the recent Government IT Executive Council's Information Processing Interagency Conference, the VA situation was the subject of much discussion.
Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting and a former VA IT official, said, "VA will be judged pretty harshly if this model doesn't work, and they're going to have to work pretty hard at it." The broader question is whether the buck should stop at the CIO¹s desk. Some have argued that the people responsible for mission-critical programs know what they need better than a CIO back at headquarters.

Proponents of this viewpoint argue that it is better to create a governance model that gives the CIO a voice, but makes program leaders responsible for program application budgets.

"We're going to see it play out in real life," said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and IT.

Both Charbo and Howard have difficult tasks ahead of them, and they have our attention.

Chertoff's announcement certainly seems to settle the issue of whether CIOs matter. They do -- at least at the moment.

Buzz contenders
#2: Still Networx-ing
Pretty much everybody had Networx on the mind last week. Everybody expects that the award is imminent, but as of late Friday, there was no word from the General Services Administration.

That didn¹t stop rampant speculation. Industry insiders said GSA was trying to award the first of the two governmentwide telecommunications contracts on the ides of March, which was Thursday the 15th. That didn¹t happen. "Why?" we in the chattering classes asked. One line of thought: GSA is dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" to make sure the contract is protest-proof.

One of the big questions is how many companies will get Networx contracts -- or GSA will just decide to give it to all four companies to avoid protests?

So, if GSA is taking more time, does that mean there will be three awardees instead of four?

#3: Postponing Doan
One thing that GSA officials did say is that the Networx award would not come on Tuesday, March 20, the day GSA Administrator Lurita Doan was scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. At midweek, apparently by mutual agreement, that big event was postponed to a date uncertain. There was no word about why.

The delay did give the Networx team a bit more flexibility about when they award the previously mentioned telecommunications contract.

#4: Spring cleaning for contracting
It's a whole new world on Capitol Hill. Just take a look at the Accountability in Contracting Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The bill, which started making its way through House committees last week, would limit contracts of more than $1 million awarded without competition to a one-year term.

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen government-contracting associations are objecting to other provisions of the bill, such as one that would require quarterly reports on contracting charges and restrictions on cost-reimbursement contracts. The associations are billing themselves the Acquisition Reform Working Group.

#5: FOSE season
Some people think March means spring. Others think it means March Madness.
And for others, it means the real start of the "American Idol" competition.
But for the government IT community, March means FOSE, the annual trade show that takes place in Washington, D.C. It also marks the start of the government¹s annual buying season.

And yes, this year there is a new owner of FOSE. Late last year, 1105 Media, the parent company of Federal Computer Week, bought FOSE's parent company, PostNewsweek Tech Media.

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