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Federal CIOs: With More Authority Comes More Accountability

Federal CIOs: With More Authority Comes More Accountability

"When you look at the memo, as well as the blog from Steven VanRoekel, they both point to a positive and welcome attitude toward the CIO function," said Forrester analyst Chip Gliedman. "On the other hand, what they describe is really the natural function of a CIO, whether in the public or private sector. So it's a little worrisome that they felt the need to state this in such a formal way when it's mainly describing the obvious."

A major initiative to improve federal information technology management, including IT procurement, got a boost recently, even though the person behind the reform had left federal service. Just days after taking over as federal chief information officer, Steven VanRoekel posted a blog supporting a new role for federal agency CIOs.

The bolstering of CIOs in the IT management process was a key element in a 25-point federal IT reform program generated by former federal CIO Vivek Kundra in late 2010. VanRoekel succeeded Kundra earlier this month.

VanRoekel based his blog on a recent White House directive that grants CIOs much more authority in managing IT -- but also holds them more accountable.

"As the federal government implements the reform agenda, it is changing the role of agency CIOs away from just policymaking and infrastructure maintenance, to encompass true portfolio management for all IT," said Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jacob Lew in an Aug. 8 memo.

"This will enable CIOs to focus on delivering IT solutions that support the mission and business effectiveness of their agencies and overcome bureaucratic impediments to deliver enterprise-wide solutions," he said.

4 Pillars

The OMB directive addresses four aspects related to enhancing the role of CIOs:

  • Governance. CIOs must drive the investment review process and have responsibility over the entire IT portfolio for an agency. CIOs must work with finance and acquisition personnel to ensure IT portfolio analysis is an integral part of the budget process.
  • Commodity IT. Commodity IT services are often duplicative and ineffective. CIOs must leverage purchasing power across their organizations to improve efficiencies on 1) infrastructure (data centers, networks, desktops, mobile devices); 2) enterprise systems (email, collaboration tools, identity and access management, security and websites); and 3) business systems (finance, human resources, administration). CIOs need to consolidate and share resources instead of setting up separate independent services.
  • Program Management. Agency CIOs must improve the overall management of large federal IT projects by identifying, recruiting and hiring top IT management talent. CIOs will be held accountable for the performance of managers.
  • Information Security. CIOs, or senior officials reporting to the CIO, shall have the authority and primary responsibility to provide security for information collected and maintained by the agency, and for the information systems that support operations. Establishing agency-wide programs with continuous monitoring will be an essential information security tool.

VanRoekel's support for the OMB policy was immediate. "In my time in both the private and public sectors, I know the importance of giving CIOs the tools necessary to drive change and to hold them accountable for results," he said.

Directive Reflects Reality

While the OMB directive may signal a significant change in how the federal government regards CIOs, it should not be considered all that radical.

"OMB's Aug. 8 memo reiterates common sense initiatives that are natural extensions of the increasing focus on IT management and performance, and the need for enhanced program management capabilities," Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council (PSC), told CRM Buyer.

"When you look at the memo, as well as the blog from Steven VanRoekel, they both point to a positive and welcome attitude toward the CIO function," Chip Gliedman, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, told CRM Buyer.

"On the other hand, what they describe is really the natural function of a CIO, whether in the public or private sector. So it's a little worrisome that they felt the need to state this in such a formal way when it's mainly describing the obvious," he said.

"CIOs always have to juggle budget requirements, maintenance requirements and strategic goals -- and they have to be accountable," Gliedman added. "And if they miss the mark as much as some federal projects have missed, then they shouldn't be in those jobs."

The mention of security in the OMB directive, however, was an element that needed attention, according to PSC's Soloway. "The directive also includes a welcome focus on information security by clarifying that agency CIOs remain important participants in security policy and execution," he said.

Although the directive did not reiterate another key element from the 25-point plan, Soloway added that contact between the public and private sectors is crucial to the role of CIOs.

"As personnel and funding resources become more scarce, it is essential that government and industry expand their communications efforts to ensure that IT programs are effectively and efficiently planned for and executed," he said.

The Federal Buzz: Notes on Government IT

CIO Transition: Newly appointed Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel entered his job with the support of a key lawmaker. "I'm happy to hear there will be a smooth transition for our nation's second Chief Information Officer," said Tom Carper, D-Del., noting the "continued importance of managing our nation's over $80 billion federal information technology budget."

VanRoekel "comes with an impressive resume, but he has big shoes to fill," he added.

VanRoekel had been executive director of Citizen and Organizational Engagement at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Before moving to USAID in 2011, he served as managing director of the Federal Communications Commission. Between 1994 and 2009, he was employed at Microsoft, most recently as senior director for the Windows Server and Tools Division.

Federal Facebook Challenge: While residents of the East Coast recover from Hurricane Irene, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is seeking help in developing a disaster response resource that features the use of Facebook.

HHS has issued a challenge for professional software developers -- or nonprofessional individuals or entrepreneurs -- to design a Facebook application that makes it easy for people to create their own emergency support network, and provides users with useful tools in preparing for and responding to emergencies.

The top prize for the challenge is $10,000. The deadline for submission is Nov. 4, 2011.


John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.


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