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CIOs talk. Does anyone listen?

In a spy movie, an interrogator might say "We have ways of making you talk."

Teri Takai, the Defense Department’s CIO, told a House subcommittee that she's got her ways to make people listen.

The CIO doesn't hold any DOD purse strings. The military branches spend their IT money any way they like, and honestly, no one really has to listen to her opinion. But Takai said the CIO gets into the purse in other ways. “There are any number of processes" in DOD that review spending, and her office does have a role in that, she said.

However, the lack of clout must stand out clearly—even to those outside the federal IT community.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, said it best to Takai during the April 6 hearing:

“The first question that leaps out to me is, do you have the authority to do your job,” Thornberry said bluntly. "You're there to strategize and guide, but they don’t have to listen to you,” he said, referring to the other services’ decision-makers.

It’s a sticking point for CIOs across government. Is the CIO seen as an advisor with a deep grasp of technology and how agencies can use it to solve problems and carry out their missions? Or as a technology junkie who has a higher status in the agency pecking order only because of a law (the Clinger-Cohen Act) from the 1990s?

Takai smiled back at Thornberry though, as if to subtly tell the chairman his assertion is right. Yet, she began to describe the CIO’s policy influence, her program reviews, and her role in the Pentagon’s procurement and investment decisions.

“We do have opportunity certainly to weigh in,” she said.

Nevertheless, Thornberry comes back to his main point with his second question to Takai.

“How often is your organization’s judgment overridden?” he asked.

She said she didn't know, but smiled the subtle smile again.

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Apr 11, 2011 at 12:11 PM

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