Senate panel pushes budget authority for CIOs

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The Senate has yet to hold hearings on the bipartisan technology acquisition bill passed by the Oversight and Government Reform committee in the House. But one of the central tenets of that bill – budget authority for agency chief information officers – was a key topic the June 11 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

In his opening statement, committee Chairman Tom Carper (D.-Del.) said that, “despite the Clinger-Cohen Act, agency CIOs are frequently not recognized as the key leaders in managing information technology at an agency. Too often there are many CIOs in a department, and many of them act independently of one another. As a result, departments are unable to take an enterprise-wide view of their investments which results in duplication and missed opportunities to leverage existing systems.”

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said that top-line budget authority for IT spending is one way to do business, but there are “a myriad of other things we have to consider,” when it comes to managing a federal IT portfolio. He cited coordination across department budgets to make sure there isn’t duplicative spending, and centralizing spending on commodity IT like e-mail systems. Commerce Department CIO Simon Szykman said that he doesn’t think the weather satellites of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration should be run out of his office. In many cases, he said, mission-related IT systems should be run by the experts at the bureau level.

Whether or not CIOs should be granted statutory authority over budgets, it’s not abundantly clear that they have the seat at the table promised to them by the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1995, according to David A. Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office. Powner, who also testified at the hearing, observed that “not all CIOs have authority over commodity IT,” and that over time portfolio management needs to be expanded to all $80 billion in federal IT expenditures if that money is to be effectively managed.

Powner previewed some material from an ongoing GAO report on the effectiveness of PortfolioStat, the Office of Management and Budget program designed to rein in sprawling IT spending, showing that even without four agencies reporting, there has been $2.4 billion in reported cost savings from consolidating or eliminating duplicative and overlapping IT investments, with $1.3 billion of that savings coming from the Department of Homeland Security. Ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) also praised the work of DHS, particularly in the elimination of redundant data center capacity, brandishing a print out of a well-highlighted spreadsheet from his seat on the dais. At the same time, speaking of the CIO post, Coburn said, “we don’t give people the authority to do what we ask them to do.”

The GAO report on PortfolioStat is due out in September. Another GAO report on TechStat, an internal review of troubled IT projects conducted at the agency level, is due out on June 13. A key indicator of CIO authority, Powner told FCW in an interview, is the extent to which CIOs can stop, halt, terminate or re-scope projects.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Carper said it might be time to add budget responsibility to the authority of CIOs in some cases, but he also cited agency leadership, OMB and oversight bodies like his committee as instrumental to the process of making IT spending more efficient. “We’re not going away on this issue,” he said.

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 and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

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


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