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FCW Insider: Some thoughts on the CTO

So what exactly does President-elect Barack Obama have in mind for his chief technology officer?


Obama has laid out the CTO's basic priorities -- IT infrastructure and policies, transparency, interoperability, etc. -- but he has said little about how the job would be structured.


So FCW asked three former CXOs to write op-ed pieces for our Dec. 8 issue to offer their thoughts. I also pulled together a page highlighting advice offered in publications and blogs outside the federal IT media.


After sifting through all of this material, here is what I concluded (and wrote, in part, for the Dec. 8 editorial):


* It is essential that the CTO have the ability to enforce policies and strategies through the budget process. If an agency plans to develop systems or programs that do not fall in line with policy mandates, the CTO should have the option of freezing funding until issues are resolved. Without that authority -- without that threat -- the CTO would have a difficult time engineering engineer significant change in a timely fashion.


* Federal agencies do not need a meddler-in-chief who exercises such authority capriciously. Under the Bush administration, officials at the Office of Management and Budget -- namely, Clay Johnson and Karen Evans -- have demonstrated it is possible to finesse the current governance structure to push through key policies and to instill new management disciplines.


* As part of the job, the CTO should work with OMB to develop technology policies and strategies. But the federal government does not need another yet policy wonk. Instead, the administration should tap the CTO to tackle exceptional initiatives -- those that require immediate action and significant operational changes.


* In this model, the CTO would be the bureaucratic equivalent of the Marines, laying the groundwork for OMB's army of budget analysts and providing cover for the CIOs, most of whom who have limited authority within their own agencies.


Obama certainly has ambitious technology goals and no shortage of IT experts on staff. But the issues raised here and in next week's issue are not really about technology but about organization. It will be interesting to see what kind of governance framework Obama puts in place to carry out his IT vision.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Dec 03, 2008 at 12:18 PM


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