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Why Spires is on leave

DHS CIO Richard Spires

Department of Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires, shown here testifying before Congress, has been on elected leave since March 15. A fundamental disagreement over CIO authorities is at least part of the reason.

Department of Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires remains out of the office, and has now been on leave for a full month. The reasons for that absence, however, are beginning to come into focus.

Speculation surrounding Spires' leave has been rampant, with much of it linked to testimony he missed before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee on March 19. Yet one of the few things DHS officials have stated publicly was that the leave "was not related in any way" to the testimony.

FCW has learned that Spires' leave was precipitated by a fundamental disagreement with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano over the CIO's authority over department-wide budgeting and purchasing of commodity IT. According to a source familiar with the dispute, Spires was attempting to centralize such purchasing as instructed by the Office of Management and Budget in an August 2011 memo on CIO authorities. That document declared that CIOs "shall pool their agency's purchasing power across their entire organization to drive down costs and improve service for commodity IT."

Component agencies within DHS objected to Spires' efforts, and complained to Napolitano, the source told FCW. Soon after a meeting that included Spires, Napolitano and Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute in which Napolitano sided with the component agencies, Spires went on leave.

John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, stressed that he had no knowledge of Spires' situation but said the move could be a mutual agreement between DHS management and Spires. Palguta added that a political appointee taking extended personal leave "doesn't happen a lot."

Because of Spires' status as a political appointee, his elected leave is paid. Appointees do not accrue leave time and can, with management agreement, take elected leave indefinitely. But like many details surrounding Spires' situation, the ultimate length of this leave remains unclear.

Margie Graves, the department's deputy CIO, remains acting CIO in accordance with DHS protocol, and DHS officials have not released an official statement since news of Spires' leave broke on April 1. Multiple speaking engagements for the CIO have been cancelled or have featured other DHS officials in Spires' place.

Spires became DHS' CIO in 2009 after serving as CIO at the Internal Revenue Service during the second George W. Bush administration. He also has two decades of experience in the private sector.

Spires is also vice chairman of the CIO Council. Per the council’s charter, the executive committee, which includes Spires, meets monthly.

Requests for comment to the Office of Management and Budget regarding Spires' role were not returned immediately. And Spires has declined to respond to multiple direct inquiries from FCW.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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