CIO strength is in ideas

Now that it’s out in the open, the spat among members of the Chief
Information Officers Council has exposed weaknesses in the underpinnings of the CIO
position and in the legislation that mandated it.


The Information Technology Management and Reform Act doesn’t confer
any real power on CIOs. Nor is there a lot of power conferred on the CIO Council.


True, legal authority alone doesn’t necessarily translate to power. But the
converse also is true: Lack of legal authority doesn’t necessarily mean
powerlessness. Look how much Al Gore has been able to do in certain areas while occupying
an office that, in the late Sam Rayburn’s inimitable words, isn’t worth a bucket
of warm spit, constitutionally speaking. Strength of ideas and force of personality often
give a person or group great influence.


CIOs don’t have an army behind them, but they do have a good idea—a
governmentwide approach to managing investment and capital planning [GCN, June 29, Page 1]. The debate is over whether to try
and mandate it.


ITMRA, a potpourri of ideas, mandates that agencies do capital planning. That, in
conjunction with a step-by-step approach to building systems, is supposed to result in
better systems that are delivered reliably and that support the agency mission.


Call me na've, but a governmentwide standard such as the proposed IT Investment
Portfolio System (I-TIPS) doesn’t look like much of a great leap. Capital planning
itself is called for in ITMRA, and agencies are starting with a clean slate.


G. Edward DeSeve, the “M” at the Office of Management and Budget, has said
the CIO Council does not and will not mandate anything for agencies. Mandates must always
be chosen with extreme caution, but DeSeve should rethink his position where I-TIPS is
concerned.


The benefits wouldn’t accrue to CIOs or to bean counters directly, but they would
to the thousands of program and technical managers who build and contract for systems.


Capital planning is a powerful tool for ensuring continuity and interoperability of
government systems, and for giving such projects stability and predictability.


A standard tool could boost the professional mobility of the best and brightest. They
could concentrate on the system requirements at hand, not on relearning how to do the
accounting. 


Thomas R. Temin
Editor
editor@gcn.com

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