A modest proposal to improve government IT

How does a cabinet-level Department of Technology and Innovation sound?

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Editor's Note: Alan Balutis and Don Upson are long-time friends who sit on different sides of the political fence. Both have served in government and now work in the private sector -- Balutis as a distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems and Upson as the founder and president of the Government-Business Executive Forum. Between them they have won 13 Federal 100 awards.

This is the third in a series of Point-Counterpoint articles they will be doing for FCW that will focus on current management challenges.


In our last discussion, I noted that your old friend, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), recently asked a Data Act Summit audience whether a cabinet-level CIO is the future of government IT. You said let us argue about that another time.

How about now? Federal IT spending exceeds $100 billion, larger than the budget of many existing departments/agencies.


“No” to a cabinet-level CIO. You can argue the budget number, but it is not one number. Rather, it is the sum of dozens of expenditures within a number of department and agencies. Each expenditure is matched with different missions and requirements.


Thanks for giving the idea such careful consideration, Don. I am flattered!

However, this is a White House that has given reorganizing and streamlining government a high priority. We do need to do something to get a better return on the investment we make in IT. The government’s acquisition system is broken and profoundly dysfunctional. In addition, the nation, to remain competitive, needs to spur innovation and set R & D priorities. Have any big ideas?


Why not a Department of Technology and Innovation? Place the federal CIO and CTO in this department. Give the CIO and CTO expanded authorities to oversee federal IT spending; to ensure that “innovation” is the key factor in government acquisition; to utilize new technologies to fulfill government requirements; and to establish a national innovation agenda. We could start by eliminating the Department of Commerce. It has been discussed for years ...


Just stop there, Don! No one is really going to “eliminate” the Department of Commerce. You are not going to get rid of the National Weather Service or the Census Bureau. Besides, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration might well be part of such a new Department of Technology and Innovation. Perhaps the Patent and Trademark Office as well.


Let us not eliminate it. Rather, dramatically overhaul it and give it some teeth.


Like a technology and innovation "repeal and replace?" That could work. NIST, NTIA, and PTO stay. The Federal CIO and CTO are housed there. Maybe the National Science Foundation and the Energy Labs. The Minority Business Development Agency goes to the Small Business Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration moves to Interior and the International Trade Administration becomes part of the U.S. Trade Representative. Census and the Bureau of Economic Analysis align with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and some other smaller agencies in a new STAT-USA entity.


Just last month, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing in which information science experts raised the risks of the U.S. falling behind in the global race to develop quantum technologies. The same is true in other areas – artificial intelligence, cyber, the internet of things and so on.

We not only to invest more in many of these areas, we need a plan, a strategy, a set of objectives and priorities. With a president who enjoys rattling establishment cages and routines of government, now is the time to think big.

From one who stands on the right side of the political spectrum and one who stands on the wrong side, can’t we agree that such an idea might make sense?


If we can change “wrong” to “left,” I actually might be able to agree with you, Don.

About the Authors

Alan P. Balutis is a former distinguished fellow and senior director for North American Public Sector with Cisco Systems’ Business Solutions Group.

Don Upson is the founder and president of the Government-Business Executive Forum.


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