Obama needs a change agent, not a bureaucracy

The newly created role is right for real transformation leader

The requirement for a governmentwide chief technology officer comes at a critical time. Leaders are demanding increased fiscal accountability, better performance and improved services for people while also ensuring transparency, privacy and security. This requires government to perform in fundamentally different ways than it has in the past.

Because of this, the CTO’s job cannot be just another bureaucratic role. The person who holds the office must be an agent of change, using the extraordinary technological capabilities currently available to fundamentally improve the performance of government. These needs will require the CTO to be the chief transformation officer as much as the chief technology officer.

Consider the fundamentals of organizational change: There must be a pre-eminent reason for the change; change in direction never comes from within; and if you can’t measure performance, you can’t manage or improve it. We certainly have the first requirement nailed down, but now we need to concentrate on having in place externally driven capabilities that will contribute directly to measurable improvement toward mission-based targets.

The last and most critical requirement for transformation is focus, focus, focus! The new administration’s top priorities should serve well as the focus for transformation. CTOs in high-performance private-sector enterprises sit at the right hand of the top leaders and strategically inject technology into product lines to enable step-by-step changes in organizational performance.

Similarly, the federal CTO must truly serve at the behest of the president and direct all of the improvements that technology has to offer on the most critical policies for the government. They include the economy, health care and homeland security. The CTO must work closely with the deputy secretaries in managing this organizational performance-based injection of technology and perform as a full member of the President’s Management Council or directly with the Cabinet. 

The CTO must also have budget authority to direct investment in new capabilities and consolidate and harvest existing investments. Because of this, the position should be established in the White House with standing in the Office of Management and Budget and the budget process.

The CTO would also represent the administration in communicating with Congress on essential funding for critical technology initiatives. The process-based capability for implementing these transformational changes exists in the federal enterprise architecture, and the chief architect would report directly to the CTO.

The ultimate role of the federal CTO is to serve as an agent of change, on behalf of the president, by producing extraordinary improvement in the performance of government and directing the strategic injection of relevant technology to reinvent the mission processes in critical policy areas directed by the new administration.

Lorentz (nlorentz@excelgov.org) is a vice president at the Council for Excellence in Government. Previously, he served as the first chief technology officer for the Office of Management and Budget.

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