Experts debate need for federal IT czar

Experts debate need for federal IT czar

OMB's Sally Katzen says the administration's IT spending plan does not demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm for technology.

Analyst says it would help futher initiatives; OMB counselor says CIO Council is already on the job

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

President Clinton's budget is woefully inadequate to take agencies into the world of virtual government, but an information technology czar could help push initiatives through Congress, an industry analyst said.

A true commitment to electronic government will require a more significant IT investment, said Tom Hewitt, who recently formed Global Governments Inc., an IT research and consulting firm in McLean, Va.

The IT spending outlined in Clinton's fiscal 2001 budget proposal is 'OK, but it's just OK,' Hewitt said last month at the Virtual Government conference in Washington.

The government should appoint an overall chief information officer to push IT initiatives before Congress, just as John A. Koskinen did with year 2000 efforts, Hewitt said.


But Sally Katzen, counselor to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, disagreed. Targeted expenditures and performance measurement are as significant as funding totals, and the CIO Council already serves as a government IT advocate, said Katzen, whom the Clinton administration has nominated to be OMB's deputy director for management.

The proposed fiscal 2001 IT budget for the Defense Department would be an 11 percent decrease compared with fiscal 2000, and requests for civilian agencies would push the IT budget for them up a modest 4 percent, Hewitt said. Furthermore, much of that spending is allocated for operations and maintenance, not new systems, he said.

'Those don't look like the right numbers to build a new and exciting government,' Hewitt said.

Some agencies are making strides, he acknowledged. The administration has earmarked a 12 percent increase for the Social Security Administration's IT programs. Hewitt said that large insurance companies, by comparison, are boosting their IT budgets by more than 20 percent annually.

The administration's IT spending plan is more targeted, Katzen said. The budget does not demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm for technology, but rather the fact that the government must balance competing objectives, she said.

The proposed $39.7 billion for IT in the president's fiscal 2001 budget proposal represents 8 percent of the total request, she said.

'Agencies have increasingly found their IT investments do pay off,' Katzen said.

Slowly but surely

Agencies are also making more 'reasonable, rational requests' and taking incremental steps rather than attempting big-bang approaches, she said.

As OMB works to integrate management and budget issues, capital planning will become increasingly important, she said. And OMB is forcing agencies to illustrate how IT projects reinforce their missions.

Katzen also said the CIO Council is more effective than a governmentwide CIO would be. The administration is trying to streamline government, and 'this is not the time to create a new Cabinet-level position,' she said.

A number of agency CIOs, however, have suggested the creation of a governmentwide CIO. Proponents point to the government's success in preparing its systems for 2000 under the aegis of Koskinen and the President's Committee on the Year 2000 Conversion.

'It goes back to Y2K,' Transportation Department CIO George Molaski said. 'If we truly want to use technology to be the enabler of virtual government ' that has to have a central champion.'

Commerce Department CIO Roger Baker has advocated such a position, too. 'The CIO Council can't tell anybody to do anything,' he said. It can't require agencies to consolidate data centers, for example, he said.

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