Political support grows for federal IT leader
When it comes to advancing electronic democracy in the United States, almost everyone thinks the job requires a czar.
At least three lawmakers are preparing legislation to create a high-level post for a federal technology chief. Organizations from a public interest advocate to a corporate-funded research association have joined the call for an "e-government czar."
Even the public overwhelmingly wants a federal "technology czar," according to a recent Hart/Teeter poll. In January, when adults were asked if they favored "an e-government czar to make government information and services more readily available to the public," 65 percent said yes.
So far, however, the Bush administration has shown little inclination for using the term. "We don't use the word "czar,' " chief White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier this year. But last week, another Bush spokesman, Jimmy Orr, said the administration does plan to name a federal chief information officer, although he would not elaborate.
The administration's lack of commitment to a Cabinet-level CIO doesn't dissuade Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). He's preparing to reintroduce legislation to create an Office of Information Policy headed by a Chief Information Officer for the United States who would work in the Executive Office of the President.
Davis, who heads a House subcommittee on technology and procurement policy, said Bush has not yet given the technology czar "appropriate focus."
He argues it will take a top-level technology chief to coordinate federal IT policies and initiatives if the government is to mirror the performance and productivity successes of the private sector.
Davis' bill would also create an Office of Information Security and Technical Protection under the federal CIO, making information security a top priority. Davis initially introduced his bill late in the last session of Congress — too late for it to pass.
The similar bill of a second czar advocate, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), suffered the same fate. "Last year we proposed a Cabinet-level office within the Executive Office of the President — the Office of Information Technology — to be headed by a chief information officer," said Turner spokesman Colin Van Ostern.
Turner thinks Cabinet status is essential because a CIO at the sub-Cabinet level or lower would lack enough influence to get things done, Van Ostern said.
Before reintroducing his bill, Turner hopes to meet with Office of Management and Budget and White House officials to draft a bill the administration will support, Van Ostern said.
A third bill is being written by aides to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), with endorsements expected from both Democrats and Republicans.
Still in draft form, the bill would create a federal CIO within OMB with status equal to a deputy director. The CIO would head an Office of Information Policy that would take over some functions of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Although not at Cabinet-level, the Senate's CIO would have substantial influence because of its location within OMB, a Lieberman aide said. The CIO would also preside over a technology investment fund that could be $100 million to $200 million a year.
Perhaps the most ambitious IT czar proposal comes from the Council for Excellence in Government, a government study organization backed by corporate sponsors ranging from AOL Time Warner Inc. to Xerox Corp. In a report called "e-Government: The Next American Revolution," the council calls for both Cabinet and sub-Cabinet level IT potentates.
At the top would be an "assistant to the president for electronic government," presiding over a $3 billion technology investment fund, the council said in a Feb. 21 report.
A step below that position, the council says, should be a deputy director at OMB for "management and technology" at an Office of Electronic Government and Information Policy. The council also wants Congress to create a "Congressional Office of E-Government" to guide Congress into the e-government age.
With a new president in office, "we have an unprecedented opportunity to make government and democracy work better," said Patricia McGinnis, council president and chief executive officer.
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