Role of CIO still inconsistent 10 years after Clinger-Cohen

The Clinger-Cohen Act has not failed the federal IT community; the implementation of many of its provisions is why some have criticized the 10-year-old law.

Federal and private-sector IT experts came to that conclusion at a forum yesterday discussing the last decade under which agencies worked under what some have called the most important federal IT legislation ever. The Professional Services Council, an industry trade association in Arlington, Va., sponsored the event in Washington.

'We have been reasonably successful with what we are trying to do, but there are still challenges,' said William Cohen, the co-author of the Clinger-Cohen Act and former Department of Defense secretary. 'Are we better off than we were 10 years ago? Yes. Clinger-Cohen was worthwhile and we can make it better.'

Cohen, who co-authored the bill with former congressman William Clinger (R-Pa.) when he was a Republican senator from Maine, said the CIO still is not thought of as a strategic visionary; their power is not respected or understood and agencies still have trouble measuring the effectiveness of their IT programs.

One audience member, Alan Balutis from Cisco Systems, asked whether new legislation is needed to improve Clinger-Cohen. All the panel members agreed that the law works, but agencies need help in using the law.

'We have plenty of rules,' said Dave Wennergren, Navy CIO and vice chairman of the CIO Council. 'This is more a story of execution and enforcement.'

Still, Cohen and others agreed that the legislation's impact is felt throughout industry and government.

'The big difference is the context,' said Kent Schneider, a former Army IT official and current vice president for Northrop Grumman IT. 'Prior to Clinger-Cohen, most IT procurements were jump balls. There was no vision, no clear path. Now there is more of a vision.'

A large part of the conversation revolved around the CIO's role and how it has evolved and how well it has met the vision laid out in the law.

'The CIO is not a chief information technology officer, but they need to understand technology,' said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and IT. 'The CIO has to be able to cut through the technology issues and boil it down to what is the best way to achieve results.'

Harry Raduege, the former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, now with Deloitte & Touche LLP of Washington, said the issue is a cultural one.

'Many times the person in charge of information resources management [was] elevated to CIO, but all their work was in technology,' he said. 'The CIO has to be a strategic leader in culture and technology for information management.'

Dale Meyerrose, the CIO in the Office of National Intelligence, said that while Clinger-Cohen established a baseline which steered the federal conversation about IT for the last 10 years, CIOs still are looked at as the person running the LAN or making sure e-mail works.

'We failed to create mechanisms of enforcement in proper proportions,' he said. 'Motivating people to change behavior is not easy. You have to be inclusive, but insistent that decisions can't be made about IT without all the stakeholders and users involved.'

But, Evans added, CIOs must guarantee that e-mail and servers work, otherwise their credibility to make strategic decisions is reduced.

'If e-mail isn't working, it doesn't matter how strategic you are,' she said.

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