Navy may restructure its IT org chart for second time in a year

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Less than a year after it effectively abolished the standalone position of chief information officer, the Department of the Navy is considering another major restructuring of the parts of its organizational chart that deal with IT and data issues.

Leaders are seriously considering the creation of a new politically-appointed position, called Assistant Secretary for information management, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told attendees at a conference last week.

The prospective position’s exact duties are still unclear, but Spencer suggested they could be fairly expansive, extending well beyond the functions of a traditional chief information officer.

“When I talk about information management, it ranges from what the traditional job of a CIO and a chief technology officer might be — everything from cloud management to data readiness to data management — all the way through to cybersecurity and data hygiene,” he told the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium. “When we look at the importance of all that, we have to balance it with the portfolio of DON management assets, and that’s what we’re exploring.”

If the Navy were to move ahead with the new position, it would seem to either require changes elsewhere in its organizational chart, or a change in federal law.

Under current statute, the Navy is only allowed four assistant secretaries, each of whom reports directly to the Navy secretary and undersecretary. But Congress has mandated that it use three of those slots specifically for the assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, and assistant secretary for financial management (comptroller).

Like the other military services, the Navy is currently using its additional slot for its assistant secretary for energy, installations and environment, a position not required by law.

Until March 2018, the Navy Department already had a separate senior official to oversee its two services’ IT affairs: the DON Chief Information Officer.

But in what was then billed as a move to streamline the Navy secretariat, undersecretary Thomas Modly ordered most of that office’s responsibilities and authorities to be delegated to the CIOs of the Navy and the Marine Corps. Modly himself absorbed the DON CIO’s remaining duties, responsibilities and title, and kept a smaller DON CIO staff to handle IT governance functions that are required to be managed at the military department level by federal law.

He also assigned some data management responsibilities to the DON’s new chief management officer.

Prior to that, the Navy had been contemplating the creation of a new chief data officer, a role that Spencer’s comments implied could be rolled into the new assistant secretary position.

Navy officials began circulating a draft implementation plan that would have stood up a CDO office as early as January 2017, but the idea never got off the ground, partly because of what some sources described as a turf battle involving the then-existing CIO’s office.

The Navy Department is, in some ways, behind the rest of DoD in deciding how it wants to approach the topic of data management.

The Army has had a chief data officer position since 2009; the Air Force created one in 2017. And the Pentagon hired its first DoD-wide CDO, Michael Conlin, last summer.

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