IT's musical chairs

A look at recent nominations for CIO at DHS and DOD and the difference they could make.

Someone must have stopped the music last week because several high-level information technology seats were filled — or at least received nominees.

President Bush nominated John Grimes to be the Defense Department's assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and chief information officer. That post is equivalent to CIO at DOD and has been vacant since John Stenbit left in March 2004.

Bush also nominated Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Peterson to serve as director of the service's new IT office — the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Chief of Warfighting Integration and CIO (SAF/XC). Like Grimes' potential post, the person in that position serves as CIO.

To wrap up his nominations, Bush picked Agriculture Department CIO Scott Charbo to become the Homeland Security Department's CIO, a position that has been vacant since Steve Cooper left in April.

Here is a look at the nominees and their respective challenges if the Senate approves them. FCW reporters Michael Arnone and Frank Tiboni contributed to this report.

John Grimes

Nominated for: Assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and CIO.

Would replace: Linton Wells, who has been the acting CIO since Stenbit retired in March 2004.

Previous position: Vice president of Washington, D.C., operations in Raytheon's Intelligence and Information Systems business unit.

Challenges ahead: Industry officials say Grimes needs to implement the military's big six IT programs: the Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion, High Assurance IP Encryption, Joint Tactical Radio System, Transformational Satellite Communications, information assurance, and network-centric enterprise services.

"We've just set the stage for network-centric warfare and the Global Information Grid," said Tony Valletta, senior vice president and director of SRA International's defense-sector business unit and a former acting assistant secretary of Defense. "I don't think we've achieved full capability. We still have a lot of work to do with interoperability and data sharing among the services."

Why the job is important: Those six major IT programs would allow warfighters, analysts, commanders and policy- makers to quickly share critical information worldwide. Warfighters could more rapidly target and attack smaller, more mobile targets often encountered in the war on terrorism.

"John Grimes is ex-military," Valletta said. "He's worked up the chain in the White House and the Pentagon. He's got that fabulous industry perspective. He will bring that all together."

"Many of us in industry are delighted with his choice," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the IT Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division. "We think he has exceptional qualities for the position. His experience in the White House, the Pentagon and industry makes him uniquely qualified."

Maj. Gen. Michael Peterson

Nominated for: Director of SAF/XC.

Would replace: Lt. Gen. William "Tom" Hobbins, acting chief of SAF/XC since May, whose next assignment has not yet been determined.

Previous Position: Director of the Air Forces Strategic Command and Air Component Coordination Element in the U.S. Strategic Command. Peterson will begin serving as director of information, services and integration in SAF/XC in July until he's promoted to lieutenant general and the Senate confirms him as director of the Air Force's new IT organization.

Challenges ahead: Peterson must ensure that the new SAF/XC fulfills its mission and addresses the Air Force's warfighting IT, business IT and communications needs. The new office should exploit information to give warfighters a competitive advantage, and it should reduce the time required to target and attack enemy locations.

"I think Gen. Peterson is the right choice," Hobbins said. "He has a strong communications background. I know him very well. He is an excellent choice."

Why the job is important: Air Force officials decided in December to combine the service's warfighting IT, business IT and communications offices. The three offices lacked synergy, which occasionally delayed important IT initiatives. The new director of SAF/XC must push forward with programs that share, tag and store data.

"Peterson has a broad background in communications, space and combat operations," said Don Peterson, executive director of the Air Force Association. He is not related to Michael Peterson.

Scott Charbo

Nominated for: DHS' CIO.

Would replace: Steve Cooper, DHS' first CIO, who served from March 2003 until April 2005.

Previous position: USDA's CIO since August 2002.

Challenges ahead: Experts consider DHS' CIO job to be one of the most challenging in government. The CIO must oversee the integration of 22 agencies into a single department with unified IT systems.

Improving information sharing and equipment interoperability among agencies and with federal, state, local and industry partners is crucial, said Jim Flyzik, a partner at Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates.

Charbo has not been as visible as other federal CIOs, Flyzik said. That will change, and Charbo must collaborate more with other agencies than he did at the USDA, he said.

Observers say a major factor in Charbo's success will be the changes recommended in the review commissioned by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Chertoff is expected to release the review's findings by early July.

Charbo "will have to step up to a leadership role and bring a lot of strong personalities together for the common good," Cooper said. Charbo also must prioritize new and existing projects despite possible cuts to DHS' fiscal 2006 budget, Cooper added.

The CIO position lacks some of the authority necessary to fulfill its mission, Cooper said. The position should report to the deputy secretary and have more sway on all budget matters that affect IT, he said.

Why is the job important?: "There is almost nothing in terms of delivering the mission capability of [DHS] that can be done without IT," Cooper said. Only the CIO can bring a uniform vision. Without that position, "you have a lot of moving parts and pieces but no brain," he said.

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