Editorial: The importance of IT

Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, one clear winner will be information technology.

Both of the presumptive presidential candidates — Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — owe some of their success to their innovative use of IT. Obama, in particular, has used the Internet to woo supporters and raise money. And, in perhaps the savviest move yet, his campaign created a Web site, www.fightthesmears.com, to fend off rumors. It is an enlightened way of dealing with misinformation, which is  impossible to block from getting out.

If the presidential campaigns so far are any indication, we should expect to see more such innovations when the new chief executive takes office. Just as both candidates have relied on technology in their campaigns, both should be prepared to embrace technology when it comes to governing.

One important way of doing that would be to name a governmentwide chief information officer.

When lawmakers were drafting the provisions of the Clinger-Cohen Act more than a decade ago, there was much debate about whether the seminal law that required agencies to appoint CIOs should include a mandate for a governmentwide CIO. More than a decade later, we think the decision not to pursue that option was shortsighted.

It’s true that agencies have made incredible progress in using and managing IT. Mark Forman and his successor Karen Evans, as de facto governmentwide CIOs in the Office of Management and Budget, should be commended for their success in shaping and advancing the Bush administration’s IT strategy. But there are greater opportunities that could be realized through the appointment of a governmentwide CIO.

For starters, the upcoming administration should tap into the powers of collaboration and Web 2.0 technology.

Government 2.0 initiatives cannot be driven from the top down — those kinds of forced changes generally fall flat. But top leaders have the opportunity to tap into innovation at the grass-roots level, using social-networking technology to find innovators in the federal workforce who are eager to change the way government does business. Connect them to a new generation of public servants and add some top administration leadership, and you have a powerful combination to get some good work done.
There are risks, but there are also opportunities.

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