Senators ask if DOD's CIO needs budget power

Concerns about the Defense Department's systems colored lawmakers' questions last week during confirmation hearings for John Grimes, the president's nominee for DOD chief information officer.

Concerns about the Defense Department's systems colored lawmakers' questions last week during confirmation hearings for John Grimes, the president's nominee for DOD chief information officer.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Grimes for a report by fall on whether centralizing DOD's information technology spending would improve systems interoperability within the department.

Levin asked Grimes to submit a report to the committee on the issue within 90 days of his confirmation.

Levin said IT spending, one of the fastest-growing parts of the DOD budget, it is not centralized. "We hear constant references to technical difficulties," he said.

Grimes replied at the hearing that the military services prepare their own IT budgets but that DOD has standards to ensure interoperability. He agreed to send the committee the report after his confirmation.

President Bush requested that $30.1 billion of DOD's $419.3 billion budget for fiscal 2006 go to IT spending, a $3 billion increase from 2005. The budget request allocates $10.7 billion for defense agencies, $7.1 billion for the Air Force, $6.2 billion for the Navy and $6.1 billion for the Army.

In his answers to the committee, Grimes said improving DOD systems interoperability and business systems modernization are among his top goals. Grimes said he would continue "to develop a strong end-to-end systems engineering function." He also said he would serve on the new Defense Business Systems Management Committee "to ensure that the goals and objectives of this initiative are met, and preferably, exceeded."

In June, Bush nominated Grimes, a Raytheon executive with almost 50 years of IT experience, to succeed Linton Wells, who has held the CIO position in an acting capacity since early 2004.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources, an IT market research and analysis firm that covers the federal government, said it would be a mistake for Congress to try to centralize IT spending within the DOD CIO's office. "You can't completely control the purse strings in an enterprise as big as the Defense Department," he said.

Bjorklund said government CIOs should primarily play the role of enforcer of enterprise architecture. "They should define what the architecture should look like to ensure the interoperability of systems," he said.

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