White House tech adviser: 'Way too many acting CIOs'

White House adviser Chris Liddell acknowledged that the federal government is moving too slowly in filling permanent CIO positions.

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White House advisor Chris Liddell acknowledged that the federal government may be moving too slowly in filling permanent CIO positions throughout departments and agencies.

Speaking at a Government Executive technology conference in Washington, D.C., Liddell responded to a question about criticism directed at the Trump administration for its sluggish pace in filling top IT jobs by saying he would like to see a quicker pace.

"I'd love to see us go further faster. It's not something that's directly inside my control, but we have way too many positions -- including the federal CIO -- that are unfilled and way too many acting CIOs," Liddell said. "Now they're all doing a great job, even though they're acting, [but] we need to fill those, and we will be stronger because of it."

The sentiment is not new, as both administration critics and allies have been expressing concern for months about a wave of CIO resignations and reassignments over the past year and the government's inability to hire or appoint permanent replacements. Currently, 13 of 27 federal CIO positions are unfilled or staffed by acting executives, while the federal CIO and chief information security officer positions have remained open since January.

But Liddell is one of the few White House officials to acknowledge that the vacancies are a problem.

In May, John Czwartacki, communications director at the Office of Management and Budget, said that the administration expected to announce candidates for the federal CIO and federal CISO positions as early as June, a prediction that has not panned out.

Private industry and contractors said they have been seeing uneven performance across federal agencies when it comes to modernizing under interim CIOs.

"I think at some agencies we're seeing angst, you know, if there's not a CIO in charge or maybe [there's a feeling] the things that acting CIOs get started will be reversed," Microsoft CTO Susie Adams said.

Charles Onstott, CTO at SAIC, said that the top-level staff shortage can lead to churn at the layer just below the CIO.

"When that happens, that actually has more of an impact on things, because [those employees] tend to be much closer to the actual work that's getting done and owning the management teams that we're interacting with on a daily basis," Onstott said.

Congressional leaders in IT policy are also eager to move more quickly. In September, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who sponsored the Modernizing Government Technology Act that passed in the House and was included as part of the defense bill in the Senate with White House support, said permanent CIOs are crucial to the success of his bill to support the government's modernization efforts.

"I think everybody would say that we wish there were more permanent people in [those] positions. If you're not permanent, you're not going to probably do anything earth shattering, and that's unfortunate," Hurd said.

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