Before the Flood
When they're finally all in place, agency chief information officers will have a
bewildering array of issues facing them.
As we reported in our April 29 issue [Page 1], two-thirds of these important jobs
remain vacant even as the Aug. 8 deadline approaches. Agency decision-makers ought to get
off the stick.
When the information technology provisions of the defense authorization bill take
effect in August, requiring agencies to have CIOs, agencies will be well into a burst of
computer buying. The middle of the final fiscal quarter will be upon us. The buying will
be fueled by pent-up demand left over from the shutdowns and now-resolved budget
uncertainties as well as by the simplified procurement rules also taking effect.
That's just for small purchases. CIOs also can expect a flood of conventional large
contract awards after Aug. 8 when IT contract protests will be heard only by the General
Accounting Office. At best, the protest rate will stay the same. There's a good chance it
CIOs will step into their jobs as the on-line revolution hits government in a big way.
At last count, there were some 120,000 World Wide Web pages supported by the federal
government. As Web use and intranets proliferate, there will be uncountable thousands of
Awareness of the effort needed just to maintain these pages is beginning to dawn on IT
executives. CIOs will inherit this issue. Tools available for dynamic page updating are
just trickling onto the market. For most agencies, updating this important channel of
information dissemination will be a labor-intensive process for some time to come.
Finally, there are the perennial headaches for the new CIOs. Numerous agencies are
grappling with poor financial systems or off-track systems modernizations.
All these issues, I think, make the case for the federal professional as CIO. Of the
CIOs appointed so far, only half are career employees. But more than ever, government IT
needs strong management and continuity. To be effective, these CIOs are going to need
timelines longer than the next election.
If someone other than Bill Clinton becomes president, there will be delays. Remember
how long it took the Clinton White House to fill the second- and third-tier patronage
Either way, if you run into a newly minted government CIO, wish him or her luck.