EDITORIAL

Don't spill the beans

Thomas R. Temin

The federal government cannot count its beans.

As staff writer Tony Lee Orr has reported [GCN, July 24, Page 1], ugly findings are reaching Capitol Hill from inspectors general and the General Accounting Office.

Most agencies' financial systems fail to meet crucial criteria for quality and accountability, according to GAO.

The problem is huge, and while it's not new, it is now more frankly acknowledged than ever before.

The discrepancies caused by these systems are producing friction between the councils that represent the government's chief financial officers and its chief information officers.

Since the Information Technology Management Reform Act established the CIO position, the two groups have been wary of one another. Now that the financial systems mess is out in the open, probably both groups need to accept some of the blame. After all, systems and management problems are hard to separate.

But the government's financial quagmire is a symptom of a deeper problem. Neither the Office of Management and Budget nor Congress has really thought through the details of agency management. Both CFOs and CIOs will tell you the missing piece is a chief operating officer, someone whose responsibility is the nitty-gritty. Deputy secretaries too often must trail their secretaries doing political work. The result is a management vacuum.

The CFO Council has sent a report to OMB outlining its view of what it calls a 21st century CFO. The report urges lawmakers and OMB executives to confer more authority on CFOs. CFOs want oversight for two functions CIOs believe are under their aegis: business process re-engineering and capital planning for systems. CFOs also want to take on procurement, which may not thrill procurement officers.

By trying to march into the void, CFOs are violating unwritten boundaries, some CIOs argue.

Given the pending change in administration, it's improbable that this brewing turf battle will be a frontline concern of either OMB or Congress. In the meantime, systems people should stand their ground, and both sides should try to find ways to work together to count those beans.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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