John Klossner

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Klossner: Don't CIO, don't tell

I'm afraid to clean my closet. This is not meant as a euphemism. My closet is a cluttered mess. There are t-shirts strewn about, and a pile of shoes, some of which even match. But if I have time to clean my closet, that means I'll be making it a priority to clean my closet. And what does it say about me if I think it important to clean a room no one else sees? I'm busy, darn it, and it's hard enough to keep the kitchen floor swept, without worrying about hidden rooms. Besides, I've learned to stop putting things in my closet -- I've found other locations for my shoes and sneakers, and I've been able to cram a bit more clothing into drawer spaces.

This seems to be the same train of thought that the federal government is taking regarding the creation of a federal CIO position. The famed Clinger-Cohen act created CIO positions throughout federal agencies, but stopped short of requiring a governmentwide CIO. The Bush administration didn't see the need for it, opting instead to install a CIO-like post in the Office of Management and Budget.

As data technology has emerged to take a central role in all of our lives, the position of the CIO has emerged, slowly, as a force within agencies. It hasn't been an easy transition for those in the position. Despite direction from Clinger-Cohen to give CIOs direct access to management, the CIOs initially had as much access as the agency janitors, except that the janitors actually got into the agency head's offices once in a while. This has gradually changed, as agencies have come to understand the need to have someone with IT experience at the table, contributing to policy and budget decisions. I believe this change occurred shortly after they discovered all those Internet tubes.

But the lack of a Fed CIO, the grand poobah, the techie of techies, sends a mixed message. The creators of Clinger-Cohen considered the emerging IT and data collection culture to be important enough to have someone in charge of policy and, hopefully, budget decisions in the individual agencies, but not important enough to create a similar role at the top.

And the lack of such a person leaves some potential holes. A fed CIO is all about support, though they won't be able to help you figure out why your computer always freezes if you try to open a Word document while you have a YouTube page open. No, the support would be for other agency CIOs. A fed CIO would -- it is to be hoped -- be able to partake in policy and budget decisions, freeing up the various agency CIOs who individually have to fight these same battles. These decisions would help lead to some standardization - at this point the possibility exists for a quilt of standards and practices, as each agency makes its own choices concerning technology. Think the Government Accountability Office being PC, the Treasury Department being Mac.

It isn't as if these skills and decision-making abilities aren't being delegated. It is pretty well acknowledged that OMB's Admin for E-gov and IT has become the de facto federal CIO. But this person has many more responsibilities, and can't focus solely on IT. Some proposals offer a compromise -- folks can live without an official CIO position in exchange for the OMB position becoming more focused on IT needs, and having budget authority. While this may solve the day to day challenges of IT, I find it the equivalent of keeping my socks in my glove compartment.

Oh, and here's a cartoon.

Posted by John Klossner on Jul 02, 2008 at 12:18 PM


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