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FCW editorial: Setting priorities

In this week's editorial, we sought to incorporate some of the elements of cover story this week, which looks at the best agencies for federal IT workers, as well as some of what we have seen in Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff's reorganization. Comments are always welcome either here on the blog, or e-mail at letters@fcw.com or to me specifically at cdorobek@fcw.com.

FCW editorial: Setting Priorities
You get what you measure, experts say. And we're told that budgets and organizational charts indicate priorities. So we wondered what the Homeland Security Department's organizational chart said about its priorities when it showed that the agency's chief information officer does not report to the head of the agency.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's Second Stage Review culminated last week in a six-point plan for reorganizing the department. The plan calls for some important changes, including the creation of an assistant secretary of cybersecurity and telecommunications. But we had hoped that the reorganization would address the CIO and chief financial officer problem. Currently, the CIO and CFO report to the agency's deputy director for management rather than to the secretary.

It would be better if this was true only at DHS, but that agency is not alone. There are still many agencies in which the CIO does not report to the top executive, despite the fact that the Clinger-Cohen Act requires it.

Some agencies do not have a CIO. The Defense Department, for example, has been without one for 16 months.

We are not criticizing the people who have been doing the work; we are criticizing agencies' priorities. Perhaps those priorities reveal something about the real value attached to information sharing and financial management.

Nicholas Carr's recent book "Does IT Matter?" could easily have been titled "Do CIOs Matter?"

Information technology executives must ensure that their work is tied to agencies' missions and that their organizations are a critical part of their agencies. But that priority-setting effort must come from the top of the agency. And it will be almost impossible to share information effectively without fully empowered CIOs.

Changing reporting structures and organizational charts does not fix the underlying problem — but it is an important step.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jul 24, 2005 at 12:14 PM


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