Private Sector Is Envy of Fed CIOs

WASHINGTON (03/31/2000) - Unlike their private-sector counterparts, federal CIOs often lack access to top management and may be treated primarily as technical support managers. It's a disparity that's worrying some federal officials, especially as information technology projects and good information security practices become increasingly critical to an agency's success.

Some private-sector CIOs this week urged Congress to improve the status of federal CIOs.

"Empower the CIOs in the federal government to effect and motivate change, as we have been empowered in private industry," urged Suzanne Krupa, CIO at Rowe Cos., a Salem, Virginia-based home furnishings company.

In a report this week, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) said the key to improving federal IT projects may lie in giving federal CIOs the same kind of power and recognition that their private-sector counterparts have.

"There is a disparity from agency to agency in the organizational placement and authority of the CIO," said Jim Flyzik, CIO at the U.S. Treasury Department.

Flyzik recently testified before a House subcommittee examining the issue.

"Private-sector CIOs can work directly with the CEOs to make immediate decisions," said Flyzik. "Public-sector CIOs must plan well in advance and work through various layers of government to achieve such change."

The House subcommittee on government management, information and technology, which held the hearing, was told by CIOs from both the public and private sectors that CIOs need to be recognized by top executives in order to be effective.

But in its report on CIO management practices, the GAO found that many CIOs at federal agencies aren't included in the executive decision-making process.

Moreover, information management is still often treated as a technical support function rather than a strategic asset, said David McClure, a GAO associate director.

Federal CIOs also face unique challenges. The CIO may be dealing with a political appointee who serves as an agency head and isn't focused on IT issues. Budget and personnel policies, including pay rates that are lower than those in private industry, can also constrain IT managers, said McClure.

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