IT Czar not Congress' Chief Priority

WASHINGTON (05/31/2000) - The idea of naming a federal information technology "czar" appears to be gaining support in the House and Senate, even as the time left before Congress adjourns almost certainly precludes a czar being crowned by the Clinton administration.

Rep. James Turner (Democrat-Texas) is "working on" legislation that would create a federal IT chief, a spokesman said. And Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat-Connecticut.) has said he hopes to introduce similar legislation this year. "If we hustle, we can introduce it in the fall," a staff member said.

But introduction is as far as the process is expected to go.

"Nobody thinks it has any chance of being passed this year," a senior administration technology official said.

Members of Congress have presidential nominating conventions to distract them this summer and re-election campaigns to shorten their session in the fall.

Creating a new senior-level post for an administration that is packing up is not high on any lawmaker's priority list.

And not everyone is convinced that a czar is the answer to the government's lackluster performance in IT.

"Just assuming that a federal CIO is the answer is the easy way out," said Joiwind Williams, director of the Technology Leadership Consortium. Other possibilities should be explored, including strengthening the CIO Council, which is made up of agency chief information officers; giving agency CIOs more budget authority; and possibly elevating agency CIOs to the deputy secretary level, she said.

But a czar has appeal for many who watch as the federal government spends about $50 billion a year on IT yet continues to lag substantially behind the commercial sector and some states.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee staffers envision an IT czar with a grand vision for electronic government, one staff member said. "A czar could bring the kind of attention and focus to an issue that really needs focus."

And, the senior administration technology official said a bit wistfully, "It would be a plum job for someone in new administration."

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