Agencies grapple with who's in charge of IT

HERSHEY, Pa.--Although federal agencies were supposed to appoint chief
information officers with full authority over systems, eight agencies with CIOs still have
their systems shops reporting to other officials.


For now, the Office of Management and Budget intends to leave these organizational
set-ups alone, said John A. Koskinen, deputy OMB director for management.


Koskinen, who spoke last week at the General Services Administration's annual IRM
Conference here, did not list all the agencies that have established what OMB is calling
the dual-box format but said the number of such agencies is about eight.


He named the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments as two agencies
that have CIOs reporting directly to the secretary but continue to have IRM managers
reporting to other executives.


OMB has raised concerns about whether these CIOs have sufficient authority, he said,
but OMB will not require these agencies to redraw their organizational charts yet. OMB
plans to evaluate these agencies and their use of the dual-box format in 10 to 12 months,
he said.


"We had some questions about the proposed organizational structures, but one size
does not fit all, and we are not mandating a single box for agency CIOs," he said.
"It could work very well, and we'll check back with them to evaluate them."


He reminded agencies that they are now operating at their own peril and control their
information technology destinies. "The new law makes it clear that you won't have the
General Services Administration and the GSA Board of Contract Appeals to kick around
anymore," Koskinen said.


OMB has no plans to take over where GSA left off or to take the blame for agency
foul-ups, he said. If agency programs rum amok, OMB will realign budgets to make sure
changes occur, he said.


"OMB is not staffing up to replicate the Brooks Act," Koskinen said.
"We're not gearing up to protect you from your own mistakes."


The 1996 IT Management Reform Act directs the 13 largest agencies to replace their
senior IRM officials with CIOs as the top systems executives.


The CIOs are responsible for crafting agency information technology investment
strategies, integrating IT operations with core programs and budget plans, identifying
interagency system development opportunities, and devising performance metrics for
evaluating IT investments and systems results.


All agencies were to have named CIOs by Aug. 8. But so far only eight have named
permanent officials to the post. Of the remaining 15, all but two have named acting CIOs,
Koskinen said. He expressed very little concern about the slow pace of the selections.


"I've been pleased with the process. I'm glad it was not done too fast because
that would not have reflected the proper thought and effort to restructure
organizations," he said. "The goal is not an organizational chart but to have a
system that really works."


The acting and permanent CIOs met for the first time last month in Washington as the
official CIO Council. Koskinen said the initial meeting was mostly an introductory
session, although the group did agree that one of its initial agenda items would be the
year 2000 problem.


Koskinen said the council will be the principal forum for generating ideas and sharing
best practices, but it will not be a decision-making body or have policy-setting powers.


"The agencies will be responsible for their own decisions. The council will not be
a source of approval," he said.


Koskinen chairs the council, which comprises the largest agencies' CIOs and their
deputies along with several of the government's top information policy and procurement
officials.


The CIOs will select a vice chairman for the council from among their ranks, probably
at the group's next meeting in October, Koskinen said.


Koskinen said that at next month's meeting, he wants the council to set an agenda for
the coming year and to look at how the varying organizational models are working out. He
acknowledged that there may be some tough issues to grapple with as agencies shake down
their new systems management structures.


The council's forerunner, the Federal CIO Working Group, worked with OMB officials in
determining what credentials the CIOs should have, how the CIOs should work with other
senior management officials and interagency groups and how the CIOs should handle their
capital investment duties.


The working group's final report was issued on July 31. Copies are available from GSA
CIO Joe Thompson by calling 202-501-1000.



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