Rep. Connolly: 250-plus agency CIOs ‘not a good model’ for IT management

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The leading Democrat on IT issues in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said he’s considering adding language to the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) that would clarify the need for a single chief information officer at each agency to report to the agency head.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), speaking Thursday at Meritalk’s FITARA Awards ceremony, said the proliferation of CIOs in the federal government runs counter to the trend of most private-sector companies.

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“In the federal family, we have about 250 in 24 agencies, and that minimizes accountability and it retards innovation, and it avoids responsibility and accountability. That’s not a good model,” Connolly said. “When we wrote FITARA, we did not prescribe. We allowed the culture to evolve, but we want the empowerment of CIOs. A chief CIO must report to the head of the agency, and if we have to, we’ll write that into law.”

The Government Accountability Office, in a report released Thursday, found that none of the 24 agencies under the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Act have policies that fully address the role of their CIOs as mandated by laws like FITARA.

GAO found most agency policies fully covered their CIO’s role in IT leadership and accountability, and information security, but few touched on their oversight of the IT workforce, IT investment management or IT strategic planning.

Several CIOs told GAO that a lack of clear guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, and their position in the agency’s chain of command, proved to be major hurdles in IT management.

“We want a primary CIO in every agency, and that CIO needs to report to the boss. Not the deputy boss, or the widget-maker in the bowels of agency — the boss. Because that’s the only way to elevate and prioritize the investments we need to be making, and the changes we need to be undertaking,” Connolly told Federal News Radio following the event. “Especially in the public sector, everybody knows who you report to matters a lot … If you want to get something done, somebody with very high authority needs to be in power to make those decisions and investments and changes.”

GAO recently told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the following recommendations would dramatically improve agencies’ scores on the next FITARA scorecard:

  • Ensure the CIO reports to the head of the agency, as outlined in FITARA.
  • Establish a working capital fund, as per Modernizing Government Technology Act.
  • Create a software license inventory, as per MEGABYTE Act.

Had agencies followed these steps, GAO said there would have been:

  • Five As, instead of one.
  • 14 Bs, instead of three.
  • Five Cs, instead of 12.
  • No Ds, instead of eight.
  • No Fs, instead of one.

“This is not rocket science,” Connolly said. “We can make this work. It’s a matter of political will. It’s a matter of structure and reporting and hierarchies, but it’s really ultimately a matter of our own political will.”

Connolly said lawmakers hadn’t originally included language in FITARA having about one chief CIO at every agency because of large, sprawling agencies like the Homeland Security Department, which serve a multitude of missions.

“We’re not going to pretend one size fits all. We’re going to try and respect the culture, but we want to see an evolution, so that we can get something done,” Connolly said.

The congressman also raised concerns about the Office of Personnel Management’s IT modernization initiative, as highlighted by its inspector general in a February management report.

In that report, the IG found that OPM, three years after a data breach that compromised the data of 22 million people, continues to struggle to modernize its IT systems.

“That’s what FITARA is designed to avoid. It is designed to provide a management framework that provides flexibility, but also empowers a CIO who serves as the first among equals,” Connolly said. “It’s designed to empower agencies to come into the 21st century and modernize how they acquire, procure, manage and deploy technology to serve the mission.”

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