On the Hill, give them the business

Staff member says presentations should be honest, to the point'and in English

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Where CIOs boot up

OMB'S KAREN EVANS says CIOs 'need to understand how to talk about business functionality and results.'

Rick Steele

Looking at a group of information-overloaded deputy CIOs and CIOs, a House appropriations staff member offered some grim news.


'It is hard to get members of Congress' attention on IT,' she said. 'Working with the appropriations committee is different than working with any other committee. We are a different breed.'


But as quickly as she outlined the reality of the Hill, she offered some valuable tips on ways these new IT managers could succeed in one of the most confounding and antiquated places in Washington.


That is how the staff member began the final session of the two-day CIO Boot Camp, sponsored by the federal CIO Council and hosted in Washington by the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that works to make government more effective.


'At the end of the day, we work for the executive branch, but it was good to hear the perspective of the legislative branch,' said Brian Burns, the Education Department's deputy CIO and one of the 13 who participated in the boot camp.


First off, the staff member said, CIOs should understand the appropriators' timetable. The House and Senate committees have from February, when the president delivers his budget to the Hill, until Sept. 30 to get their work done.


'Go meet the appropriators, get noticed during certain times of the year,' she said. 'When the president submits his budget, provide a more in-depth briefing.'
Agency leaders should get to know the staff members, too. 'Our job is to make sure the member sees everything.'


But stick to business. The staff member said they don't like 'get to know you' meetings. CIOs'or any agency executive for that matter'should have something to say about the agency's appropriations.


She recommended that CIOs read the reports from the House and Senate subcommittees and the conference committees. They should know what the member of Congress asked about, and see if they can offer some additional information.


'Capitol Hill is a very reactive organization,' she said. 'Be sensitive to the member's district or state and what is going on there.'


Another tip: Understand the Government Accountability Office's role. She said GAO provides IT expertise and helps translates concerns or projects 'into English for us.'


John Marshall, a former CIO at the Agency for International Development and now an executive with CGI Group Inc. of Montreal, said GAO plays an important role in developing a case for change. But, 'at best, it is an arm of Congress populated by very smart analytical people, and, at worst, it is driven as a political hit squad used by members to advance their agenda.'


The appropriations staff member advised against bringing IT charts to the Hill and expecting staff members to be interested. 'Talk to us in English so the IT translates into something more meaningful.'


CIOs and IT managers should build on their relationship once it is established with the committee.


'Be honest, be accessible and if you only talk to us in political leadership speak, don't bother,' she said. 'Don't wait to tell us if there is a problem. When you work with us early and often, you will build credibility.'


And credibility with the appropriations committee is what the staff member was trying to instill.


'The whole purpose of the session is to have an open dialogue and the appropriations person was direct and honest,' said Karen Evans, Office of Management and Budget's administrator for IT and e-government. 'CIOs have to integrate themselves with the agency budget people to figure out how appropriations processes are handled within the agency.'


Evans said the biggest benefit was understanding the federal budgeting and appropriations process in a nutshell because most CIOs are working on three budgets at once. 'They need to understand how to talk about business funcationality and results,' she said.

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