OMB head sets bold new course for CIOs

Today’s CIOs are investment analysts, recruiters and security officers for their agencies' information, according to a new memo from the Office of Management and Budget director that backs up CIOs' status in agencies.

CIOs are expected to drive an investment review process to make sure IT projects are on schedule and within their budgets. They must also work with chief acquisition officers and chief financial officers to make IT portfolio analysis is an integral part of an agency’s annual budget process, OMB Director Jacob Lew wrote in a memo released Aug. 8. Read the memo.

Lew emphasizes in the memo that the changing role of the CIO is a direct outgrowth of the 25-point IT reform plan that former federal CIO Vivek Kundra instituted.

CIOs have to get rid of duplication in IT spending and decide if projects are worthwhile. Lew wrote that agencies are buying unwisely when they purchase commodity IT, such as data center services, e-mail systems, and business systems. Lew wants officials to think about bulk buying, or strategic sourcing, to get a lower price from companies.

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CIOs also need to hire the top IT program management talent, the memo said.

CIOs or senior agency officials reporting to the CIO, will have the authority and primary responsibility to set in place agencywide information security programs. OMB wants continuous monitoring and standardized risk assessment process. The point is to support the CyberStat meetings that officials from the Homeland Security Department will lead as they check on how agencies have implemented these OMB demands.

CyberStat meetings are based on former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra’s TechStat meetings, during which senior officials from OMB meet with agencies to personally check on the progress of IT requirements.

The monitoring and CyberStat meetings will provide near-real-time security status information to officials and help them develop plans to deal with situations, Lew wrote.

“With responsibilities for these four areas, agency CIOs will be held accountable for lowering operational costs, terminating and turning around troubled projects, and delivering meaningful functionality at a faster rate while enhancing the security of information systems,” Steven VanRoekel, the newly appointed federal CIO, wrote in a blog post late Aug. 8. Read the blog post.

Lew’s memo was sent to top officials in departments and agencies to impress on them the authorities of the CIO. These authorities will push agencies to understand more clearly what their CIOs are responsible for doing.

Alan Balutis, the first CIO at the Commerce Department and now senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group, wrote in an FCW column Aug. 3 that the CIO position is near death. Since the 1990s when the position was created, CIOs never really had authority for IT investments or a voice in the budget development meetings. Balutis also pointed to a Government Accountability Office report, which has not been released yet, that comes to the same conclusions. CIOs are hindered from carrying out their authorities and have never been empower to go forward. Read the column.

Lew's memo describes the duties and expectations agencies should have about their CIOs.

“In my time in both the private and public sectors, I know the importance of giving CIOs the tools necessary to drive change and to hold them accountable for results,” VanRoekel wrote.

Agencies are now supposed to change the mindset of their CIOs. In the summer of 2012, agency officials will report to the President’s Management Council and the CIO Council on how they’ve done what OMB has laid out in the memo.

VanRoekel added that he expects this memo and IT reforms from OMB’s 25-point plan, which was released in 2010, will cause a fundamental shift in IT policy. It will also be key in “permanently removing the barriers that have prevented consistent execution across the federal government for so long,” he wrote.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Sun, Aug 14, 2011 Gheorghe Matei Romania

Now we can change the way we think about software. The current software model is a danger for the human society!

Wed, Aug 10, 2011 DC Fed Washington

As a direct report to a component CIO in a cabinet level agency I can say this is long over due. Today the CIO takes a back seat the CFO and to program/business office leaders. Clinger-Cohen has been ignored for years. Maybe this will help. So much for optimism. The skeptic in me says this memo doesnt have any teeth and it will only be an opening to require more reports and more dashboards from CIOs unless OMB backs the few CIOS with backbone that try to exercise this newly described authority. Getting that level of help from OMB is unlikely.

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