What keeps federal CIOs up at night?

image of worried man

Budget constraints, oversight and other factors weigh on agency CIOs. (Stock image)

Federal chief information officers are seeking more authority over department budgets, worrying about the continued overspending on operations and maintenance, and questioning their ability to maintain a high-quality workforce in a time of pay freezes and budget cuts, according to a survey released May 2.

The CIO Insights survey, conducted by the trade group TechAmerica with auditing and consulting firm Grant Thornton, paints a picture of government technology professionals in a time of intense flux, struggling to adapt to new budget realities, the threat of cyberattacks, a graying workforce and the uncertainties of legislative oversight.

The spending cuts implemented under sequestration were top of mind for respondents. Some of the 41 CIOs and information resource officials who participated in the survey said they are using the mandate to do more with less as an opportunity to innovate. CIOs reported money-saving initiatives like equipping field employees with tablets instead of laptops, increased virtualization, eliminating redundant contracts, and standardizing computer configurations. However, doing more with less only goes so far. Many CIOs fretted about possible risks arising from budget cuts, including longer hardware lifecycles, vulnerability to cyberattack, continued reliance on legacy systems, and the ability to keep the skills of IT workers up to date.

Read the Report

CIO Insights

Recent efforts by OMB to enhance the agency-wide budget authority of CIOs have not led to change, according to 73 percent of respondents. While nearly all CIOs report said they have a "seat at the table" in terms of agency decisions, authority for IT spending is still widely distributed across bureaus and offices.

A few CIOs (all survey responses are anonymous) back some measures contained in the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which was circulating in draft form when the survey was conducted, and has since passed out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But some cautioned that a government-wide policy for CIO budget control might not be the best thing for all agencies, considering their varying structures and purposes.

CIOs continue to be concerned about spending on operations and maintenance with 76 percent of IT budgets going to servicing existing programs.

The problem of cybersecurity, meanwhile, is bound up with budget concerns, recruitment and retention, according to CIOs. "If Congress wants cyber security to be a priority it should set the right messages from the perspective of appropriating funds, because I don't control all the funding and I cannot direct it to this area," said one CIO.

One potential bright spot is that reforms coming from the federal CIO in the Office of Management and Budget, including the PortfolioStat budget review process, are showing promise. CIOs also strongly backed the move to cloud computing and data center consolidation, with 94 percent saying their agencies have adopted or plan to move to a cloud computing environment.

"PortfolioStat is establishing transparency and discipline in the acquisition process," one CIO said. "It is requiring a culture change and better business cases." Another respondent said the program is helping agencies take a hard look at their own operations, but that the program "is not consistent with how agencies report or manage IT acquisitions."

The comments do no't take into account changes that federal CIO Steven VanRoekel recently implemented to streamline 2013 data collection for PortfolioStat.

CIOs are worried about the future of the federal IT workforce. The increasing pace of retirement, flat or declining budgets, pay freezes, and a competitive private sector are combining to put a damper on the recruitment and retention of qualified IT workers. A chart in the report indicates that CIOs did no't feel their workers were as strong as they could be on such critical skills as ""program management and problem solving.

Agencies are trying to keep pace with the demands of the Digital Government Strategy, released by OMB in May 2012. A majority CIOs participating in the survey reported that their agency did not have a bring-your-own-device policy.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Wed, May 8, 2013

Nice Rant from about but it has little, if nothing, to do with why Federal IT has challenges. It's more about why you should quit your Federal job and go to private sector (like I did long ago). Guess what, I have to do plenty of training on my own time AND I don't get comp time, period. I don't get accrued leave or a fixed pension plan either. Your problem is that it's hard not to be negative when you are a negative person. I saw too many of you when I worked in Gov. I decided to quit (after 7 years) before I became like you the ROAD warrior - Retired On Active Duty. Do yourself a favor and do US taxpayers a favor - quit and find a job in the private sector that will make you happy and productive. Worked for me - good luck!!

Thu, May 2, 2013

The Federal IT is not as strong cause the only ones that go to hands on trainings are the management personel whom rarely get involved in taking care of the problems. They want you to sit in front of your desk and take training while doing calls and everything else inbetween. Better yet do it on your own time at home where it takes away from your family time. It is really beginning to suck when you are getting no real hands on training to learn about the new ways of doing things. Some of us can learn by reading and some of us need the hands on one on one training. When I hear from my friends working in the public sector going to trainings and excited to be doing what they are makes me wonder WTF am I still doing here. The only thing that keeps me here is the short timer syndrome, but it is wearing very thin......how long can this last. Comp time sucks cause you still have work to do or finish, so when to take it. Hard not to be negative when everyone or everybody is against you now cause of some politicians making all the bad choices and lining there pockets while the rest of the Americans suffer.

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