What keeps federal CIOs up at night?

The latest TechAmerica CIO Survey reveals the effects of new budget realities, cyber vulnerabilities and the pressures of an aging workforce on agency CIOs.

image of worried man

Budget constraints, oversight and other factors weigh on agency CIOs. (Stock image)

Federal chief information officers are seeking more authority over department budgets, worrying about the continued overspending on operations and maintenance, and questioning their ability to maintain a high-quality workforce in a time of pay freezes and budget cuts, according to a survey released May 2.

The CIO Insights survey, conducted by the trade group TechAmerica with auditing and consulting firm Grant Thornton, paints a picture of government technology professionals in a time of intense flux, struggling to adapt to new budget realities, the threat of cyberattacks, a graying workforce and the uncertainties of legislative oversight.

The spending cuts implemented under sequestration were top of mind for respondents. Some of the 41 CIOs and information resource officials who participated in the survey said they are using the mandate to do more with less as an opportunity to innovate. CIOs reported money-saving initiatives like equipping field employees with tablets instead of laptops, increased virtualization, eliminating redundant contracts, and standardizing computer configurations. However, doing more with less only goes so far. Many CIOs fretted about possible risks arising from budget cuts, including longer hardware lifecycles, vulnerability to cyberattack, continued reliance on legacy systems, and the ability to keep the skills of IT workers up to date.

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CIO Insights

Recent efforts by OMB to enhance the agency-wide budget authority of CIOs have not led to change, according to 73 percent of respondents. While nearly all CIOs report said they have a "seat at the table" in terms of agency decisions, authority for IT spending is still widely distributed across bureaus and offices.

A few CIOs (all survey responses are anonymous) back some measures contained in the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which was circulating in draft form when the survey was conducted, and has since passed out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But some cautioned that a government-wide policy for CIO budget control might not be the best thing for all agencies, considering their varying structures and purposes.

CIOs continue to be concerned about spending on operations and maintenance with 76 percent of IT budgets going to servicing existing programs.

The problem of cybersecurity, meanwhile, is bound up with budget concerns, recruitment and retention, according to CIOs. "If Congress wants cyber security to be a priority it should set the right messages from the perspective of appropriating funds, because I don't control all the funding and I cannot direct it to this area," said one CIO.

One potential bright spot is that reforms coming from the federal CIO in the Office of Management and Budget, including the PortfolioStat budget review process, are showing promise. CIOs also strongly backed the move to cloud computing and data center consolidation, with 94 percent saying their agencies have adopted or plan to move to a cloud computing environment.

"PortfolioStat is establishing transparency and discipline in the acquisition process," one CIO said. "It is requiring a culture change and better business cases." Another respondent said the program is helping agencies take a hard look at their own operations, but that the program "is not consistent with how agencies report or manage IT acquisitions."

The comments do no't take into account changes that federal CIO Steven VanRoekel recently implemented to streamline 2013 data collection for PortfolioStat.

CIOs are worried about the future of the federal IT workforce. The increasing pace of retirement, flat or declining budgets, pay freezes, and a competitive private sector are combining to put a damper on the recruitment and retention of qualified IT workers. A chart in the report indicates that CIOs did no't feel their workers were as strong as they could be on such critical skills as ""program management and problem solving.

Agencies are trying to keep pace with the demands of the Digital Government Strategy, released by OMB in May 2012. A majority CIOs participating in the survey reported that their agency did not have a bring-your-own-device policy.

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