CIO Council at odds over goals

Infighting in the federal Chief Information Officers Council has led at least one
member to charge that the council is failing to show leadership on information technology
issues.


A division among council members over mandating agency use of the Information
Technology Investment Portfolio System (I-TIPS) mirrors a broader debate over whether the
council ought to set IT standards governmentwide.


Some members argue that the council should establish only best practices and lead by
example, while others contend that the council ought to mandate governmentwide use
standards.


Neil Stillman, deputy CIO for the Health and Human Services Department, said a deadlock
over mandating I-TIPS raises doubts in his mind about whether the council can handle large
issues, such as implementing a governmentwide systems architecture.


Irked about the council’s decision on I-TIPS, a system to help agencies manage IT
as a capital investment, Stillman in a letter to the council called for the dissolution of
the workgroup studying I-TIPS.


In the letter, obtained by GCN, Stillman criticized the council. "Will the CIO
Council act to compel agencies to act in the interest of better, cheaper, more effective
government, or will it, by its inaction, defend the status quo?" he said.


The I-TIPS debate boiled over in May when the council’s Executive Committee
refused to mandate the system’s use by agencies.


I-TIPS, developed by the Energy Department using seed money from the Government IT
Services Board and the Interagency Management Council, has been widely praised as a
management tool for detailing capital spending initiatives [GCN, March 23, Page 1].


Stillman, co-chairman of the council’s Interoperability Committee and head of a
group working to consolidate federal administrative systems, said the government needs
standard IT capital reporting requirements and I-TIPS would make such data collection by
the agencies possible.


He also recommended the creation of an interagency I-TIPS steering committee to develop
and maintain I-TIPS as a governmentwide system.


The council, however, rejected the proposal. Justice Department deputy CIO Mark A.
Boster, who said he opposes council mandates, argued that the Office of Management and
Budget had not yet set any baseline reporting requirements.


"To try to mandate certain ways of doing things in the government is just not
going to happen," Boster said. "Everybody is at different levels of technology.
Everybody is using different types of technology."


Instead, the council, at the suggestion of Agriculture Department CIO Anne Thomson
Reed, formed an I-TIPS Steering Committee to study pilot projects using the system.


The decision prompted Stillman’s heated letter.


"Unless members of the Executive Committee act in the government’s best
interest rather than as protectors of parochial agency concerns, re-engineering in the
National Performance Review-sense will fail," Stillman said. "Lacking your
vigorous support … I respectfully suggest the workgroup be abolished as it cannot
accomplish its goals!"


According to the minutes of a June 5 Executive Committee meeting, Stillman said that
the resistance to implementing I-TIPS as a standard "suggests that the workgroup
charter should be re-examined" so that the goals are aligned with the council’s
goals.


But other council members disagreed.


"We’re not in the mandating business, not at this point, and [I] don’t
really contemplate it," said council chairman G. Edward DeSeve, acting director of
management for the Office of Management and Budget.


"Rather than mandate a concept, we have to first show a solution and then focus on
standardizing that solution," said council vice-chairman James J. Flyzik, Treasury
Department CIO. The group will promote centers for excellence that demonstrate and foster
best practices, he said.


"If we can create a standard architecture concept and then put it out, we can then
say to government agencies, ‘Look, here is where the rest of government is going. If
you want to go your own way, bear in mind that’s what you’re doing. You’re
going to be out on your own island in the future,’ " Flyzik said.


Boster said the council must base its decisions on business case analyses. "You
take the best of breed, and you see what’s out there. You migrate toward that if it
makes sense," he said.


Some other members, however, said the council missed an opportunity to come together as
a group.


"There is still a huge cultural barrier to doing that," said Gloria R.
Parker, CIO of the Housing and Urban Development Department.


The I-TIPS case "would have been a beautiful opportunity to show that all
government agencies could come together and do a major project as one government,"
she said. "It’s just not time."

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