OMB continues lonely stand against IT czar

OMB continues lonely stand against IT czar

Deputy director for management says budgeting office can handle the duties

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

The debate over the need for a governmentwide chief information officer has become an us vs. them contest.

At a House hearing this month, Office of Management and Budget officials continued an apparently solitary stance against the creation of the governmentwide position.

A governmentwide CIO could rein in troubled projects, Rep. Jim Turner says.

Sally Katzen, deputy director for management at OMB, told members of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology that the duties proposed for the governmentwide CIO could and should be done within OMB.

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As an example, Katzen pointed to OMB oversight of year 2000 code issues before John A. Koskinen came on board to oversee the project. OMB has access to information needed to oversee the government's large information technology projects and prevent the waste of billions of dollars on systems that won't work.

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) asked Katzen why the budgeting office hadn't stopped the IRS and Federal Aviation Administration from spending billions on systems that were obsolete by the time they were implemented.

Those failures led to the open architecture and modular development approach used across government today, Katzen said, but Turner noted that money was still misspent because of poor management. 'No one made the tough decisions,' he said.

The committee convened the hearing to discuss HR 4670, the CIO of the United States Act of 2000, introduced by Turner, and HR 5024, the Information Policy Act of 2000, introduced by Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.).

The subcommittee has referred both bills to the full committee for review.

David L. McClure, the General Accounting Office's associate director of governmentwide and Defense information systems, said the two bills would provide a stronger central focus for the government's management of IT programs. The government has roughly 26,000 systems, GAO estimates.

Without a governmentwide CIO, agencies remain challenged by weak IT investment selection and management control, slow progress in design and implementation of technology architecture, poor project management and significant security weaknesses, he testified.

Creating a statewide CIO helped administrators foster communication and cooperation among various information technology units, said Otto Doll, testifying on behalf of state CIOs. He is the commissioner of South Dakota's IT Bureau and president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.

Paul Rummell, a former Canadian governmentwide CIO, said the position helped Canadian leaders cope with a number of the same IT issues that plague U.S. officials.

A central CIO also helped Canada with its recruiting and retention woes, Rummell said.

William L. Scherlis, director of the Information Technology Center at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said the position would prove worthwhile if it helps the government create 'customer-driven services' and fosters stronger ties between technology innovators and federal buyers.

The speed of technology evolution requires rapid adaptation by those who purchase high-tech equipment for the government, he said.

Such leadership should come from a governmentwide CIO who can focus on issues beyond those of compliance with regulations, Scherlis said.


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