Need ideas on a governmentwide CIO, eh? Look north

Need ideas on a governmentwide CIO, eh? Look north

by Tony Lee Orr

Paul Rummell urges Uncle Sam to follow the way of the Great White North.

Rummell, a former chief information officer of Canada, says a similar U.S. government position would be a means of getting around stovepipe mind-sets.

As the country's first information technology czar, Rummell oversaw a mass reduction in systems, from more than 120 to 14. 'We didn't get perfect,' he said. 'But we got down to 14. So there was a huge cost savings in that area.'

Currently, Rummell is president and chief executive officer of RLG netPerformance of Vancouver, British Columbia, and a member of the U.S. General Accounting Office's Executive Council.

As governmentwide CIO, Rummell also helped the Canadian government save money through bulk systems purchases.

'We were able to do shared procurement initiatives, so we were able to provide licenses for enterprise resource planning systems and buy a license for the government rather than buying separate licenses,' he said. 'That saved money.'

A strong federal governmentwide CIO could take the lead on worrisome projects that have historically cost the U.S. government billions of dollars for systems that are obsolete before they are plugged in, he said.

More importantly, a governmentwide CIO can direct change.

An IT czar should report to the president, Canadian Paul Rummell says.

'We certainly were able to stroke the transformation to the Web presence for the government of Canada,' Rummell said. 'So instead of just being a central directory for the public servants, it is now a place where [government] is virtually oriented and you can really go there for one-stop shopping for government services.'

Canada's government is roughly a tenth the size of the U.S. government, he said, but the scale should not affect the ability of a central figure to do the job of overseeing systems.

Canada embraced the idea of a governmentwide CIO about four years ago. For three years prior to the creation of the post, Canada had a pseudo IT czar. That position was the chief infomatics officer, who functioned much as a U.S. Office of Management and Budget representative, he said.

Based on his experiences, Rummell recommended a plan under which the governmentwide CIO would report to the president rather than OMB.

'There are certain infrastructure projects that have to be funded through a central group with no vested interest,' he said. 'So there has to be some neutrality, and they basically have to serve the common good.'

Stay or go?

But OMB chieftains have balked at governmentwide CIO proposals and have said overarching CIO-type duties should remain under the aegis of the budgeting agency, which would farm out governmentwide projects to individual agencies.

These agencies would get feedback from other agencies, but would maintain the lead in implementation.

Rummell said moving the duties out from under the OMB mantle and to a central independent organization would increase the impartiality of the decision-making process.

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