Federal CIOs need more authority, IT official says

Elected officials are often not
equipped to make IT decisions, says Donald W. Upson, Virginia’s secreary of

IRVINE, Calif.—Federal chief information officers need more decision-making power,
an information technology manager told a gathering of IT professionals at the recent
Management of Change conference. Elected officials are often ill-equipped to make IT
decisions, said Donald W. Upson, Virginia’s secretary of technology, at the
Federation of Government Information Processing Council conference.

Congress faces an overwhelming number of issues, leaving it little time to understand
or act on issues facing CIOs, he said.

IT managers, Upson said, have to educate lawmakers on Capitol Hill about the role CIOs
can play during a time of procurement reform, year 2000 challenges and other issues.

The IT reforms instituted in recent years are changing the way government manages its
systems, and CIOs are in a unique position to guide those reforms, he said.

The Government Performance and Results Act, for instance, requires agencies to
establish strategic plans, but cooperation between the executive and legislative branches
is lacking, Upson said.

“We need to help build leadership in Congress,” he said. “There needs to
be positive oversight from Capitol Hill, or these reforms may not take hold over

Upson praised a bill that would strengthen the authority of the Agriculture
Department’s CIO. Two bills—the USDA Year 2000 Compliance Enhancement Act, HR
3280, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and the USDA Information Technology
Management Reform Act, S 805, sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)—would expand
Agriculture CIO Anne Thomson Reed’s authority.

Reed said the House bill would require that a percentage of the IT budget for each of
Agriculture’s components be turned over to the CIO for use on year 2000 projects, as
well as money for implementing policies required by the Information Technology Management
Reform Act.

The Senate bill would require each of Agriculture’s components to have its own CIO
and would let the CIO help choose the bureau CIOs.

Upson said that either the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee or the
Senate Governmental Affairs Committee should implement the changes governmentwide. But the
bills need the backing of a champion to get through Congress, he said.

Industry groups can bring pressure to bear on lawmakers to create more power for CIOs,
he said. Lawmakers “respond to whoever puts the pressure on them. We all need to play
a role,” Upson said.

He warned, however, against the proliferation of IT industry groups, saying that too
many voices reduce the industry’s influence among policy-makers.

“I’m not necessarily a believer that there is strength in numbers,”
Upson said. The number of industry groups—13 at last count—dilutes the message,
he said. 

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