Care and feeding of the CIO

A federal chief information officer spends less than two years in the job on average, according to a new federal study, and experienced CIOs say that's too short a period to effectively manage information services and technology investments.

The Government Accountability Office released its latest report examining the role of federal CIOs yesterday.

The report came as a congressional committee began looking into long-standing concerns over the ability of CIOs to lead their agencies in needed IT transformations.

Office of Management and Budget officials said the CIO turnover rate did not negatively impact job performance.

'I'm not sure there is a real correlation between time on job and effectiveness,' said Clay Johnson III, deputy director of management at OMB. 'A CIO can have an impact in a short period of time.'

However, former and current government agency CIOs agreed that a brief tenure makes it less likely that a CIO can accomplish agencywide IT transformations.

'Three years is needed to experience a full budget cycle'from request to execution,' said Kim Nelson, CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency. 'Three years is often needed to see a project from concept to reality. And three years is about the time needed to not only introduce transformational thinking, but also institutionalize the changes within the organization.'

GAO recommended that agencies address CIO turnover by implementing human capital flexibilities, such as recruiting bonuses, retention allowances and skill-based pay.

Former and current CIOs had more drastic suggestions, ranging from creating a clear plan of deputy succession to having the CIO be a presidential appointee serving a fixed term.

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 required agencies to have CIOs, and Congress has since said it is committed to ensuring they are given adequate authority and responsibility.


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