CIOs uncertain about the Trump administration

Uncertainty 2017

Several agency-level CIOs told a Capitol Hill panel that, while they are proud of their progress to date, there are real uncertainties about their future and the future of key IT initiatives as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to assume the presidency.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the IT Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, said that CIOs needed to be "the focal point for all things information technology" and needed to be "staying at their posts for longer than the current two-year average."

"If we are going to move the ball forward, we need federal CIOs not only with the necessary authorities to make their vision a reality, but who are sticking around long enough to see it happen," said Hurd. "This is why the OPM CIO was such a focus of the OPM data breach report and its recommendations. We need empowered, accountable and competent CIOs."

However, 10 CIOs are currently political appointees, including federal CIO Tony Scott, and are subject to change come Jan. 20.

Social Security Administration CIO Rob Klopp, one of those political appointees, said he knew coming in that he had a two-year timeline to leave an imprint, but acknowledged this predetermined arrangement was "one of the weirdest things for me, as someone from the commercial world."

Hurd specifically asked Klopp if he would be interested in hypothetically returning after the transition. Klopp offered no verbal commitment, and lawmakers soon moved on amid chuckles.

Klopp expressed confidence that those remaining at SSA will continue the success of individual projects, but noted "the bigger idea of how to modernize the whole of SSA's IT organization is a much bigger challenge and that has cultural impacts."

Klopp said his agency's adoption of agile methodology – driven by digital service programs such as 18F -- rather than lengthy, fixed contracts has enjoyed successes. However, the short-term renewals and the "fail fast, fail often" mantra add to the uncertainty of a commitment from a Trump administration.

As for how much his agency might need to adequately modernize, Klopp said his agency asked for $300 million over the next four years, but added estimating a specific number is tricky because modern products are incompatible with the government's legacy systems.

"Our IT systems are sort of the equivalent of B-52s — dependable, but outdated and vulnerable," said Klopp. "Being at the level you'd like us to be at really requires modernization that we need" congressional approval and commitment "that's in the president's hands" to achieve.

Specifically, reforms such as the Hurd-sponsored Modernizing Government Technology Act and the $3.1 billion IT Modernization Fund proposed by President Barack Obama -- both of which aim to transform the way government approaches IT modernization -- remain up in the air.

While Hurd stayed away from guessing the actions the next administration might prioritize, he said he believes IT is a bipartisan issue that seeks to improve the government's operation, and urged the Senate to pass the MGT Act "so the incoming administration has the necessary tools to modernize our outdated and insecure federal IT."

However, even for the CIOs who do not need to draft resignation letters, legislation like the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act still needs some ironing out, and how a Trump administration approaches IT remains uncertain.

Jonathan Alboum, the Department of Agriculture CIO, said the current system, in which agency-specific inspectors general interpret federal standards to issue scorecards, lacks standardization and "makes it difficult to check progress."

NASA CIO Renee Wynn asked for patience as agencies navigate the culture change from a check-the-boxes mentality to implementing continuous monitoring and multi-factor authentication.

Wynn said she expects NASA's FITARA grade to take a dip on the next scorecard as the agency reevaluates the security of its systems, but promised improvement on the following review.

Hurd said he is willing to fight on behalf of agencies to get resources for IT upgrades, but added, "we need to make sure the money being spent is used effectively."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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