Labor, Commerce ‘change’ CIO role

T here have been a couple of interesting tidbits I learned over the last month about the chief information officer’s community.

Dawn Leaf quietly moved from deputy CIO to CIO as the Labor Department uncoupled the position from Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management.

For much of the last decade — if not longer — the assistant secretary, currently Michael Kerr, wore the CIO, the chief privacy officer and chief human capital officer hats.

Leaf became Labor’s deputy CIO in November 2012, but has really been the leader of the agency’s technology modernization effort for the last two years.

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In so many ways, separating out the CIO’s role from the assistant secretary’s role was much needed. It was well known that over the last six years, if not longer, that the deputy CIO of Labor ran the IT shop, and even under former CIO Patrick Pizzella, his deputy really handled much of the day-to-day operations.

Another interesting change to the CIO role happened recently at the Commerce Department.

Steve Cooper

replaced Simon Szykman in June — we know that. But what many didn’t know about Cooper’s decision to come back to government for a third time is instead of coming in to Commerce as a career official, Cooper came in as a political appointee under the Schedule C, which does not need Senate confirmation.

Only a handful of CIOs are political appointees under Schedule C — the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs are most prominent. But Commerce has never been a political position, so it’s interesting why White House or agency officials decided to “upgrade” the position.

The Treasury Department made its CIO position political about a decade ago, but turned it back into a career one soon after.

The Defense Department’s CIO position used to be Senate confirmed, but the Pentagon removed that designation in 2010 when then Secretary Robert Gates removed the assistant secretary of Defense for networks and Information Integration (NII) designation.

For Cooper, this would be his second politically appointed role. He was the DHS CIO from 2003 to 2005.

The Environmental Protection Agency, another one of those with a Senate- confirmed CIO, remains stuck in a holding pattern.

President Barack Obama nominated Ann Dunkin in January 2014, meaning EPA has been without a permanent CIO for more than 18 months.

Dunkin has been serving in one of those “senior adviser” roles since August, meaning she is doing some of the work as the CIO, but doesn’t hold the title and thus is limited to how much influence she can have.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held her nomination hearing in April and approved her nomination in July. But on Dec. 17, the Senate sent back the nomination to the White House under part of the Senate rules that returns nominations that were neither confirmed nor rejected during the session. Obama will need to re-nominate Dunkin during the 114th Congress.

Along with Dunkin, the White House will have to resubmit Russell Deyo to be the nominee to be the next DHS undersecretary for management under the same rule.

This post is part of Jason Miller’s Inside the Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jason’s Notebook.