How a governmentwide CIO's office should work

John Spotila

Too little of the recent discussion about creating a governmentwide chief information officer has focused on defining the role and ensuring its effectiveness.

The government has two widely different objectives. The first is using information technology to improve the way government operates. I call this the management goal. Second is exerting leadership on a wide range of technology-related issues that affect society and the economy. I call this the policy goal.

It is unrealistic to expect the same person to accomplish both tasks well. For the management goal, we need a fourth statutory office at the Office of Management and Budget, an Office of Information Policy and Technology, or OIPT. It would have a Senate-confirmed head. For the policy objective, the president should appoint a senior-level adviser. Here's why.

The management goal encompasses electronic government, sound IT capital planning, computer security, process improvement and well-trained IT personnel. It requires specific technical expertise, a clear understanding of how government agencies work, a meaningful role in the budget process and the ability to coordinate efforts across departments.

To be successful, a federal CIO would need a strong IT background and the ability to focus on the IT effort full time.

The policy job wouldn't be concerned with improving how the federal government operates but would focus on laws, regulations, and external policies affecting things like electronic commerce and Internet taxation. A strong technology background might be helpful, but not essential. That job belongs in the Executive Office of the President.

OMB is best suited to accomplish the management goals, provided that it receives enough funding for the new, Senate-confirmed position I describe. OMB's deputy director for management chairs the President's Management Council and can be enormously helpful, but the DDM has too broad a charter to give IT the specific focus it needs. The same can be said for the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Hence the need for OIPT, the fourth statutory office at OMB, whose head would be the federal CIO. This person should become chairman of the federal CIO Council and work closely with other senior leaders at OMB and in the White House, just as the Senate-confirmed heads of OIRA, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Office of Federal Financial Management already do.

The federal CIO would be able to testify before Congress. The director of OMB would remain responsible for ensuring that the federal CIO's efforts were successful and consistent with the president's other priorities.

President Bush has indicated a preference for making OMB's DDM the new federal CIO, essentially following the Clinton administration's approach.

But this is unlikely to accomplish what advocates for a new federal CIO have in mind. As an interim step, calling the DDM the 'federal CIO' does no harm. Longer term, Congress and the president should look to create a new statutory office at OMB whose Senate-confirmed head would serve as a federal CIO in a more meaningful sense.

John Spotila was administrator of OIRA under President Clinton. He is now the chief operating officer of GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va.


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