Chertoff gives CIO the power of the purse

Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff is giving the agency’s chief information officer control over more than $4 billion in information technology spending, and adding sweeping authority to the CIO’s office.

Under a management directive released last week, DHS CIO Scott Charbo will gain authority over budget planning and project approval for the component agencies’ technology shops. He also will receive authority over the hiring, performance evaluations and pay of the component CIOs, Chertoff announced in a March 15 speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Chertoff’s decision to assign centralized IT budget authority drew praise from critical department constituencies and follows a continuing trend among the most troubled federal agencies.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, stated in an e-mail message that she “hopes the CIO’s expanded authority will provide better continuity in the department’s IT programs and assist in the development of departmentwide systems that will help DHS operate more effectively and efficiently.”

Charbo joins Department of Veterans Affairs CIO Bob Howard in obtaining budget authority. Congress gave Howard control over IT spending last year in a bill to reorganize the VA.

Many experts in and out of government have continually called for CIOs to have budget authority, yet few do. But there is a growing momentum for CIOs to gain spending power.

“The most direct reflection of public policy is money,” said Bob Woods, a former General Services Administration official and president of Topside Consulting, at a recent conference. “If you have money you can influence what happens. If not, you can just persuade.”

However, Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget’s administrator for e-government and IT, countered that CIOs already have responsibility to manage technology investments, no matter if they have budget
authority.

It’s about time
“At VA, the dog has caught the car,” Evans said at the same conference. “We will see how it plays out.”

Chertoff seemed to recognize the limitations and challenges Evans mentioned.
“In a department of our size and complexity, and particularly in a department built from a lot of legacy agencies, this unification and strengthening of core management will not be easy,” he said. “Some of the components will not be used to this level of centralized coordination, particularly as it relates to IT systems.”

Chertoff added that “by doing this, DHS will be at the forefront of fulfilling the promise of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, which established the role of the CIO in major federal agencies.”

“It’s about time. They needed to do this,” added Jim Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Lewis said Chertoff recently has taken several steps to “pull DHS into an integrated agency,” such as Chertoff’s recent mandate that put additional restrictions on former DHS officials’ permission to lobby department agencies.

As for the overall IT consolidation, Lewis said, “It will take a few months to show results. But it will improve acquisition and overall coordination, and lead to better interoperability and lower costs.”

An IT industry veteran who has extensive experience working with Charbo and the department’s technology operations said on condition of anonymity that “management styles and structures should become more consistent, thereby aiding industry in delivering IT and business solutions.”

Chertoff’s reorganization comprised three key elements:

  • Each DHS component will submit its budget to the central CIO office, which will make recommendations for inclusion in the department’s final budget.
  • Any IT acquisition worth more than $2.5 million must be approved by the department’s central enterprise architecture board and by the headquarters’ CIO.
  • The DHS CIO will approve the hiring of component CIOs, and set and approve their performance plans, ratings and annual award compensation.
  • Chertoff also said in his speech that the department would strengthen its investment review process and tie it more tightly to budget, acquisition and procurement business functions.

Dizard is a deputy assistant managing editor for news for FCW’s parent company, 1105 Government Information Group.
Jason Miller also contributed to this story.
Consolidation of IT authority gains momentumHomeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff’s directive to put additional authority into the hands of DHS Chief Information Officer Scott Charbo resonated with a similar move last summer by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and with recommendations from technology analysts inside and outside the government.

In its VA reorganization, Congress reacted to department information technology debacles, such as the $342 million CoreFLS financial-management system and the $300 million HR Links automated personnel system.

Former House Veterans’ Affairs Office Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) led the consolidation move, sponsoring HR 4061, the VA IT Management Improvement Act. It gave the CIO of the VA authority over IT budgets, employees and assets.

Gartner Consulting had told Buyer’s committee that centralization of IT budgeting could save the department $1.7 billion over five years.

The House unanimously cleared the bill, and it became law last year, taking effect with a package of other IT reforms that also included reinforced technology security at the VA.

— Wilson P. Dizard III

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