Challenges facing the new CIO

The Trump administration has a blueprint for IT modernization, and the new federal CIO pick Suzette Kent is walking point on the challenge in her first government -- and first tech -- position.

Federal CIO Suzette Kent
 

Suzette Kent faces a range of challenges in her role as federal CIO.

Like its predecessors, the Trump administration arrived in Washington with ambitions of reorganizing, reinventing and modernizing government.

Within the first four months of its tenure, the Trump White House established two offices to do so -- the Office of American Innovation, headed by the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the American Technology Council, led by former Microsoft executive Chris Liddell -- seemingly giving cybersecurity and technology a prominent place in government management.

However, White House went an entire year without a presidentially appointed federal CIO, a key point person to execute on IT management goals. Acting CIO Margie Graves, who served as deputy to the Obama administration CIO Tony Scott, held the fort until Suzette Kent's appointment in late January.

Matt Lira, a presidential advisor on tech issues and a leader in the Office of American Innovation, told FCW that coordination across agencies and offices is "one of the opportunities that exists for the office of the federal CIO."

Lira said the addition of a permanent federal CIO presents an opportunity to help these groups carry out modernization goals -- not a potential conflict or redundancy.

"We're strong believers, this administration, in the office of the federal CIO and … supportive of CIOs in general, across government," Lira said. "This is a role we believe in, and we want to help validate it as a strong leader in this space and also even strengthen it going forward."

Kent's resume includes executive stints at Accenture, JPMorgan and most recently Ernst and Young. Notably absent is any CIO or government experience.

"To me, the biggest thing … anybody from private industry coming into federal service has to get a handle on and understand [is the] budget process," said Karen Evans, who served as the federal CIO -- then called the administrator of the Office of Electronic Government -- under the George W. Bush administration.

"Getting a handle on that and being able to use all the levers is what's important," she continued. "You have a bunch of tools in your quiver, but you got to be able to know how to use them."

"That's a hell of a learning curve," said Steve Cooper, a longtime private- and public-sector CIO, whose federal experience includes service at the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce.

Kent, who did not respond to FCW's interview request, may not be afforded much time to adjust. As soon as she steps into the office, Kent faces a host of pressing tech, management and policy challenges.

Former Federal CIO Tony Scott said that implementation of the Modernizing Government Technology Act is the biggest priority facing Kent.

"That's probably first and foremost on everyone's mind, including the agencies," he said.

Agencies are also faced with ballooning costs of maintaining legacy systems  and concerns about cyber threats without adequate money to defend against them.

In addition to the cybersecurity executive order signed in May 2017, agencies also have to tackle the priorities laid out by the Office of Management and Budget's final Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization. The wide-ranging plan directs agencies to work on shared services, Trusted Internet Connection policies, the security of high-value assets, acquisition of network services and cloud migration throughout 2018.

Cooper said that from his experience, "an agency CIO really does want to do and follow the policy guidance set by OMB. But that comes with no funding, which means you've got to find the money in your own budget --  that's never easy to do."

Insufficient collaboration between OMB and agencies "is the thing that drove me up a wall the most," Cooper added. "No money and no practical understanding of OMB of the impact of the policy they just sent out."

Evans said the crux of the federal CIO role is making sure agencies have those resources and oversight they need and generally building relationships to serve as agencies' "conduit directly back in to the White House."  

"The White House doesn't do the work," she said. "The agencies do the work, so it's about establishing a good working relationship" with deputy secretaries and agency-level IT staff.

Evans added that especially because a lot of the agency-level CIOs are either new in their roles or acting, "if you listen to career staff down lower in the ranks, they usually have a lot of the answers for the problems you're trying to solve."

At the agency level, the Trump administration has proposed significant budget and staffing cuts to government's civilian side and has been historically slow on filling politically appointed positions, with many CIO positions remain occupied by acting personnel.

With the persisting vacancies in appointed positions across government, Scott said, "one of the key roles" for Kent will be "to help recruit agency CIOs into those slots that are now vacant."

"It's hard to get a lot of things done if you've got those positions being vacant at the end of the day," he added.

And for the CIO to be successful, the position has to have support from the top levels of government.

Lira emphasized Kent enjoys that level of support, pointing out that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and the OMB team "were the lead" on her selection.

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation,  said there's reason to wonder how high a priority using technology to change the way government operates truly is. He noted the length of time it took to appoint Kent and the understaffing and sidelining of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"What I'm looking for," Howard said, "is, does she talk about what's done before, what was done well, what's she going to do that's in line with the current strategies and circulars and existing policies and procedures, and what's she going to do differently in terms of addressing systemic problems" that have plagued past large-scale modernization projects.

An additional wrinkle will be how a CIO carves out a role in an administration that plans to lean on more private sector involvement and has set up multiple offices to perform similar functions.

While Scott expressed confidence in Kent's ability to adapt to her new role, he noted the general urgency facing government -- and the federal CIO.

"This is a transformative time," Scott said. "I think we can't waste any time in upgrading and modernizing the federal government."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.