CTOs emerge as IT hubs for agencies

VA's Frank Perry and DISA's Dawn Meyerriecks are among the handful of top-level CTOs overseeing agencies' IT initiatives.

Henrik G. DeGyor

As CIOs face ever more political and administrative responsibilities, agencies are hiring chief technology officers to mind the server room.

Kim Nelson, CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency, hired a CTO last May because her office could not keep up with technology trends.

Mike Carleton, CIO for the General Services Administration, said his agency brought in a CTO more than 18 months ago because the demands of capital planning and intra-agency communications left little time for long-range projects, such as developing an enterprise architecture and assuring systems security.

And when Norman Lorentz, the Office of Management and Budget's first CTO, walked through the door to talk about the CTO job with Mark Forman, OMB associate director for IT and e-government, he was handed a one-page description. It read, in part: 'The CTO is responsible for ... implementation of the most effective technology to solve business problems in the federal government.'

As the CIO position has evolved beyond the role of a technology guru and into one combining technology and administrative duties, the need for an IT expert has remained.

In the past year, six agencies added CTOs, including OMB, EPA and GSA, which hired a second CTO for the Office of Citizen Services. In all, eight agencies list CTOs on the CIO Council Web site, and that doesn't count smaller bureaus and Defense Department offices that have CTOs, such as the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Filling a void

'The CIO position is becoming more political because they want to implement change,' Lorentz said. 'To do that, you have to have some control and leadership. It is a natural evolution for the CTO to be needed.'

In 1996, the Clinger-Cohen Act established the CIO vernacular in the federal government. It elevated CIOs in the chain of command and instituted policies that forced the job criteria to slowly transform.

'The CIO has become business-driven first and technology-driven second,' said Dawn Meyerriecks, CTO for DISA. 'Agencies need a CTO to understand the trends and be the principle technologist who will be around for a long time.

The CTO provides a bridging function to keep the agency's strategic vision on track.' Meyerriecks' role at DISA is to form DOD's long-term technology strategy. She concentrates on architecture and spends much of her time working outside DISA making sure the military services' systems fit together within the overall architecture.

Frank Perry, CTO for the Veterans Affairs Department, is another veteran technologist. Perry said he focuses on technology and the change it brings, while CIO John Gauss concentrates on program and policy strategies.

'To be effective, I need to have a role in the formulation of policy and programs, and he needs to have a role in the technology and architecture decisions,' Perry said. 'But he focuses on a select number of areas, and I focus on complementary areas.'

Perry, like many CTOs, chiefly works on VA's architecture and systems engineering.
Gauss 'focuses on the strategic planning issues, while I work on the architecture for key projects like our telecommunications network modernization and cybersecurity enterprise project,' Perry said.

Tom Berray, executive director at Cabot Consultants Inc., an executive search firm in McLean, Va., has followed the role of CTOs since the 1990s.

He said most CTOs fit into one of two models: those that run an agency's day-to-day operations and those that figure out how to use technology to change the way the government works with its customers.

EPA's Nelson and others predicted the government would expand its use of CTOs.

'As more CIOs sit at the table in the boardroom with the chief financial officers and chief operating officers, CTOs will be needed to keep an eye on technology,' Nelson said.

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