Roadblocks for Federal CIOs

Government KeyboardThere is a major roadblock for Chief Information Officers in the federal government – and it may not be surprising to hear that it’s agency leadership serving as the impediment. However, there are two other sources of frustration.

The Association for Federal Information Resources Management asked a panel of federal CIOs and other top technology officials to reflect on how the CIO role has changed since it was officially instituted by the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act and where the role stands today, according to an article at Nextgov.com.

Among the findings:

CIOs can wield more or less power; It all depends on agency leadership. Commerce Department CIO Simone Szykman said, “The actual strength of empowerment in Clinger-Cohen is somewhat limited. So the ability of the CIO to develop a vision and execute that vision comes down largely to the support we get from higher up in the agency leadership.”

• CIOs need to make the most of their power.

“If I go into that first meeting and it’s death by PowerPoint or I go in and I say here are all the things you can’t do and, by the way, I want control of every budget dollar [for IT] that is in this department, do you think I’m going to be invited back?” Karen Evans, national director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge and former e-government administrator during the Bush administration asked.

Inefficiencies can undo great ideas and strong support

“The reality is you can’t lead what you don’t have,” said Paul Brubaker, director of planning and performance management at the Defense Department. He noted that long delays in personnel hiring can make technology management inefficient, sometimes delaying hires by two months or more.

One commenter on the article said the government could be more efficient if it chose to be. “You build the system we want, not the one you develop. If the government got its act together, they could demand lots of stuff for very little money. but of course, that requires a few smart people to work together and maybe, give up some power,” he said.

That remark may have come in response to this anecdote from Federal Communications Commission CIO David Bray. According to the article, “When the FCC tried to buy a $99 iOS developer’s license, for example, he was told that language in Apple’s terms and conditions meant the agency would have to go through the much more onerous process of developing a purchase order for the service.”

In related news, the Federal Chief Information Officers Council is prioritizing information technology workforce issues by reestablishing the Workforce Committee in its reorganization, according to Nextgov.com. “The CIO Council announced the reestablishment of the workforce committee to focus resources on helping CIOs create a top-notch IT workforce,” the article said.

It cited a post at CIO.gov, which said, Department of Transportation CIO Richard McKinney and Nuclear Regulatory Commission CIO Darren Ash have been tapped to lead the committee. McKinney and Ash will bring renewed energy to the Council’s workforce initiatives aimed at:

  • Identifying people with needed critical skills and talents needed today and into the future;
  • Hiring the right people at the right time;
  • Retaining high performing people;
  • Training and maintaining a skilled, diverse workforce;
  • Assuring the right balance of contract and federal workers in a blended workforce; and
  • Ensuring the government is staffed with the best cybersecurity professionals to protect Federal networks and information assets.

The CIO.gov post also said, “The Committee will also leverage working relationships with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council and the Office of Personnel Management to highlight and address Federal IT workforce issues. They will coordinate on activities to identify effective solutions for the hiring, training, classification, and professional development needs of the Government related to information technology.

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.