It's back to the blackboard for Bill Chou

Wushow "Bill" Chou left his post as the Treasury Department's chief
information officer this month and returned to academic life after being at the vortex of
several sweeping changes in federal information technology policy.


Chou oversaw the early implementation of the Information Technology Management and
Reform Act, increased congressional scrutiny of IRS' troubled Tax Systems Modernization
program and the cutover to a new departmentwide communications network in the three years
he was deputy assistant secretary of Treasury for information systems.


James L. Flyzik, Treasury's telecommunications director, will be the acting CIO until
the department names a permanent replacement. Chou will return to his job as a computer
science professor at North Carolina State University at Raleigh, where he taught before
coming to Washington during President Clinton's first term. He had previously worked in
several government systems jobs.


Looking back at his most recent stint in Washington, Chou said he sees a sea change for
the government. "Everything is more evolutionary. If you had asked me three years ago
whether top agency heads pay attention to technology, I would be surprised if they
would," Chou said. "Now they do."


Chou said last year's passage of ITMRA indicated how far senior managers and lawmakers
had come. The law solidified the important role IT plays in government agencies, he said.


But the law won't necessarily make things happen; having a seat at the secretary's
table is not enough, Chou warned. "You can still have a seat at the table and still
be ignored. Understanding the issue is still more important."


Chou said that one of the most significant changes of his tenure at Treasury was the
shift to buying communications services rather than buying the pipelines, a change that
occurred with the Treasury Communications System (TCS).


"Before it was seen purely as a transfer mechanism for data," as if it were a
utility like electricity, he said. "More and more it's a way to do business."


The e-mail, electronic commerce and collaborative computing applications make it
useful, Chou said, adding that he likes to call it the department's WorkNet.


Chou's biggest disappointment proved to be continuing problems with IRS information
systems. But he said he expects that IRS CIO Arthur A. Gross, appointed last spring, can
turn the program around.


In the past, there was a rush to merely install machines at IRS without looking at the
overall structure, he said. "It's everywhere in the world, not just government.
Government has just been slow to respond."


As to the future, Chou noted the year 2000 date conversion work the government must
complete. The work is critical for bureaus such as IRS that the nation and government
depend on for revenue figures, he said.


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