CIOs work on wish list for next president

CIOs work on wish list for next president

NPR's Morley A. Winograd calls for a fund to support interagency systems projects.

Federal technology chiefs say they will push for more funding, responsibility and collaboration

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Information technology executives are looking beyond the Clinton presidency and developing wish lists for the next administration.

The Chief Information Officers Council will present the new administration with recommendations for improving government IT.

'We need to come out with ideas as federal CIOs,' said Treasury Department CIO James Flyzik, vice chairman of the CIO Council. 'We need a common theme.'

The dossier will cover a range of general and specific issues, said council members, who met late last month to start forming proposals.

The group is likely to ask for more authority for CIOs, Flyzik said during a forum hosted by the Bethesda, Md., chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. The IT Management Reform Act created CIOs and made them responsible for planning and implementing IT projects.

The group also might propose budget changes. Federal IT executives are increasingly frustrated as they try to work at Internet speed to keep their agencies on par with the private sector while constrained by the government's slow budgeting process, Flyzik said.

Part of that problem is caused by a funding cycle that requires agencies to plan systems years in advance of their use. Flyzik noted that it typically takes two years of planning to implement a federal IT project. Plus, the current process also offers little flexibility for multiagency projects, he said.

'We don't do it well today,' Flyzik said. 'Today, we use a pass-the-hat approach' for funding governmentwide projects.

Commerce Department CIO Roger Baker agreed: 'As a CIO, I have a big, red stop sign that can make any IT project die. But I don't have a go sign.'

Lack of control over IT spending and the budget process makes it difficult for CIOs to set a course for their agencies, he said.

Every bureau within Commerce needs a strong CIO who reports both to the bureau's head and to him, Baker said. That's the goal; the bureau CIOs would form an IT management team to make decisions on, for example, a unified Commerce telecommunications network, help desk or data center, he said.

'In IT, we build parallel structures just because we want our own system. That has got to stop,' said Harold Gracey, who last month left his post as CIO of the Veterans Affairs Department.

Work together

Morley A. Winograd, senior policy adviser to Vice President Gore and director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, recommended establishing a fund to support multiagency projects.

Executives noted that IT has come a long way in a short time. But a government CIO's job goes beyond merely understanding technology, they said.

'We are not the Department of IT,' Gracey said. 'We are the Department of Veterans Affairs, and we have to understand the operation of our line organizations.'

Gloria R. Parker, CIO at the Housing and Urban Development Department, said all IT investments are tied to an agency's mission and each agency must demonstrate how its IT projects are moving toward implementation.

This is true at her department, she said, adding, 'The days of buying technology for technology's sake are over at HUD.'

Part of the change has been brought on by changes in the government's work force and how agencies are managing systems, Parker said. As the government outsources more projects, agency IT workers are moving from a core of what she called supertechies to technical workers with project management skills, she said.

And more change is inevitable, the IT executives said.

'Anybody who believes that change has been rapid in this administration is in for a very rude shock, and I don't care who wins,' Baker said. 'You better learn to live with it.'

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