Federal CIO lays out wish list for her agency counterparts

Federal CIO Suzette Kent presents opening remarks for the Women in Federal IT & Cyber event on March 29, 2018. (USDA photo by Tom Witham) 

In order for CIOs to handle their increasingly important, complex and ranging roles, federal CIO Suzette Kent wants to see greater authorities for and communication between agency tech offices.

"We are at a critical turning point in our government for technology transformation," she said at a May 3 event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. "The use of technology is central to how products and services are delivered today, and that needs to be a central foundation to what we're doing on the government side."

And especially as "budgets have been flat while doing modernization," Kent said agency CIOs need "full authority" to carry out that modernization mandate. "The accountability piece is there," she said. "We're still working on empowering CIOs with the full authority to affect the outcomes for which we're holding them accountable."

Kent specifically named "setting the technology direction, authority to hire the skills that are needed, authority to manage the budget and the opportunity to sit at the table with agency and government leadership to collaborate and contribute about how we make decision about how we're achieving the mission" as authorities she would like to see expanded.

While agency CIOs increasingly have direct-report relationships to agency leadership they often still lack the authority or the resources to carry out their goals, she said.

There are tools including agency-level working capital funds and the central Technology Modernization Fund to get creative with the limited dollars agencies do get for IT, but Kent said that budgetary creativity can only get a CIO so far.

"Creativity is a start, and there are some agencies who have been incredibly successful at that… but it's not enough," she said. "Those are the reasons we're working very aggressively with various agencies to use the working capital funds because the savings we can generate can help fund the path forward."

Kent also said that during transitions from old to newer equipment, there is a spike in costs, and "that overlap creates the need for additional budget, and that's a conversation we're going to have to [have]."

But regardless of budgetary constraints, agencies still face a heavy lift when it comes to IT and cyber priorities.

Kent noted that just 20 of the 50 actions laid out for agencies in the Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization, released by the American Technology Council in December, have been completed.

"We have the rest to finish by the end of the year," she said. "It's an aggressive challenge."

Kent added she'd also like to see agencies share more information between one another, especially when it comes to cybersecurity.

"Our cyber agenda is mission-critical," she said. "We have to be connected and on the same page… we're only as protected as our weakest link."

Kent also said it's her office's duty to help get agencies to collaborate and partner with industry.

She praised Margie Graves, the deputy federal CIO who served as the acting CIO in the year-and-change between Tony Scott's departure and Kent's nomination, as a "partner" to accomplishing these goals.

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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