WASHINGTON (04/03/2000) - Federal agencies have much to learn from their state government and industry counterparts about the role chief information officers play. A new guide from the U.S. General Accounting Office sifts through the lessons learned to help agencies lay a foundation for federal CIOs.
On a larger scale, Congress last week raised new questions about the role of a possible federal or national CIO who would report directly to the president and coordinate governmentwide technology use.
The GAO executive guide, "Maximizing the Success of Chief Information Officers:
Learning from Leading Organizations," pulls experiences from three state governments and three companies and compares them with the CIO situation within federal agencies. GAO determined that there are six fundamental principles that most federal agencies are not following.
A common theme in those principles is raising the CIO position into the upper levels of the business side of agencies, executives told the House Government Reform Committee's Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee last month.
"The success of the CIO heavily depends on the senior management understanding the role of the CIO within the organization," said David McClure, associate director for governmentwide and defense information systems at the GAO Accounting and Information Management Division. "Agency leaders must help facilitate success in the IT arena. CIOs are critical, but they cannot do it alone."
"In the private sector, many CIOs have evolved into a chief technology officer, working side by side with the CEO. The public-sector CIO has not yet reached this level of influence," said Jim Flyzik, CIO at the Treasury Department and vice chairman of the CIO Council.
Because of CIOs' involvement in solving the Year 2000 problem and the push to move services to the Internet, federal CIOs have made strides toward becoming a partner in agency leadership, Flyzik said. State and industry examples show that such a leadership role is vital.
"To achieve effective use of IT, the states have been gravitating to CIOs reporting to the governor," said Otto Doll, president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.
This falls in line with the recent renewal of enthusiasm for a federal CIO, a concept that first came up when Congress was drafting the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, the legislation that created the CIO position at federal agencies.
Last month, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, Rep. Jim Turner, a Democrat from Texas, and Rep. Stephen Horn, a Republican from California, expressed interest in the benefits of creating such a position.
Lieberman and Turner went so far as to say that they would likely introduce legislation to do just that.
"I have come to the firm conviction that we do need a federal chief information officer," Turner said. "The CIO at the federal level needs to have direct access to the president and needs to be at the table so his ideas can be shared as aspects of government are discussed."
This would be a step cheered by federal, state and industry CIOs. A federal CIO could help coordinate specific IT programs and missions across government, Flyzik said. The CIO Council has tried to fill this role, but it lacks the program and budget authority that a federal CIO would have, he said.
"We do need some authority that can put in place the things we need to do on a governmentwide basis," he said. "The need for someone, something, some organization to have power is there."
But it could only work if the position is carefully crafted and the responsibilities clearly defined, according to McClure.
Congress and agencies should not think of a federal CIO as a panacea, cautioned Gerald Knutson, vice president of communications and information services at US West.
GAO's six principles of CIO management in leading organizations:
-- Recognize the role of information management in creating value.
-- Position the CIO for success.
-- Ensure the credibility of the information management organization.
-- Measure success and demonstrate results.
-- Organize information management to meet business needs.
-- Develop information management human capital.