When the boss' chair is empty

The Defense Department has not had a permanent chief information officer since last November. But information technology managers at the Pentagon continue to carry out policies and

programs established by their former boss, according to government and industry officials.

The job has been vacant since John Stenbit retired, but work on a host of important missions has continued. That work includes the evolving network-centric

warfare strategy and the Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion program, said Paul Brubaker, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at SI International Inc.

"All of these are great concepts," said Brubaker, who served as deputy CIO at DOD from 2001 to 2002. "But there is still a lot of movement needed."

The nomination of Francis Harvey as the new DOD CIO has been delayed because of politics. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) put a hold on all DOD nominees because of the military's unwillingness to turn over documents regarding a multibillion-dollar deal between the Air Force and Boeing Co. to lease and buy tanker aircraft.

Delaying appointments is nothing new in politics, said Fred Thompson, practice director for e-government in civilian agencies for Unisys Corp. But it eventually causes chaos in the IT ranks.

The best advice for acting CIOs is to play it safe, Thompson said. They should pursue existing policies and programs and congressionally mandated items, such as the budget, business cases and computer security. "There is plenty for an [acting] CIO to do," said Thompson, who held key IT posts at the Treasury Department when the agency lacked a CIO.

Stenbit prepared a plan to keep things moving in the event of a political firestorm over his successor. As a result, warfighters and analysts can more quickly and easily access and share data. But policies and programs can survive only so long before they require a full-time boss, Thompson said.

Vendors want McCain to stop playing politics so the military can speed up its commercial satellite communications procurement. "We do have communications programs going forward that require equal due diligence," said Leslie Blaker, director of federal business development for Americom Government Services Inc., which provides satellite bandwidth to government and industry.

However, McCain's hold on Harvey and nine other DOD nominees because of the troubled Air Force/Boeing tanker deal has other ramifications. It has caused department IT leaders to handle two, sometimes three jobs, according to an official in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration and CIO.

Acting CIO Linton Wells II, for one, also holds the positions of principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for spectrum, space, sensors and command, control and communications.

Nevertheless, despite juggling multiple jobs, military IT workers are accomplishing their tasks, said another official in the DOD's CIO office. "It has not affected people tremendously. [DOD's deputy CIO] Priscilla Guthrie has always carried the water with DOD-CIO issues. I wouldn't say there has been any chaos."

NEXT STORY: How e-gov is done

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