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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Reader comments

Fri, Jun 14, 2013

Centralizing vs distributed has been a battle raging back and forth for years. Currently the idea of centralizing is gaining ground once again. Horrible idea. There need to be ruls for all to adhere to, but flexibility to workaround the "one size fits all" mentality that comes with central planning. Don't take the centralizing approach too far or a lot of stuff will break.

Thu, Jun 13, 2013

I share the concern stated above that more than a few "CIO's have become self-enamored conference speakers completely detached from the Agency's programs." This risk escalates with FITARA's aim of making the CIO position a political appointee. We're in the pendulum swing back toward centralizing everything. Occupy IT gets it right here, too: "I don't see a lot of relevancy for most CIOs to program execution." I would add, especially the Department-level CIOs. Few have sufficient insights into the complexity of programs to be able to make IT investment decisions. Stick with the commodity-IT slice and I can seen benefits. Over-reach and programs and people are sure to suffer.

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 OccupyIT

I'm of two minds on this. There have been CIOs that I felt would have been able to fundamentally improve their agency's ability to pursue mission had they only access to the investment resources. On the other hand, more and more, CIOs have become self-enamored conference speakers completely detached from the Agency's programs actually do. If we're just talking commodity IT then why is the CIO a big player? Is the building and property manager a rockstar? Who cares. If we're focused on mission execution then the business case for consolidating control, and budget, has to be made that actually focuses on mission - not just dollars. Once the obvious consolidation of resources is done (and why not just outsource it?) I don't see a lot of relevancy for most CIOs to program execution. As a result, I don't see it as a long term benefit to separate budget authority to support them and their fiefdoms. Separation of budget and mission always leads to disfunction...

Wed, Jun 12, 2013

As you hear the economy getting better, more goverment employees are opting to go into the public sector since we can not get our pay freeze lifted. I hear of at least another 30 to 40 employees leaving cause they can make more money in the public sector to keep up with the rising cost of utilities and food prices. We only want what we have rightfully earned by working long hours and hard work to get. Comp time does not pay our bills, that is another way of the goverment screwing us out of our earned money. Why do we put rules on the public if we can not follow those same rules, time and a-half for over time. IT has always gotten the shaft with the Judicial branch, cause justice is more important, but let a server or pc go down and the world is coming to an end. Pull that type writer out and see how much work you get done, for the smart asses of the world. Somewhere people still do not get it, they think you push a few buttons and it just works, no there are people that are constantly working in the back grounds to make sure those key strokes are met with the correct responses and updating information so that things run smoothly for the end user. There are times just like any business yes we are slow, but like every business things get hectic and crazy when updates or systems get old and are not replaced in a timely manner. Some of our IT are working out of closets, supply rooms, files rooms for server rooms, does that sound like something you would want to put your money on. Where is the safety of that data or equipment when they are not put in safe secure rooms with AC or heating units. I guess this is enough venting.

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