Can Legislation Strengthen the CIO Role in Government?

The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act could strengthen the authority of the CIO in American business. One goal of the legislation is to strengthen IT acquisition, but it also aims to eliminate duplication and waste, attempting to address data center consolidation, classification of commodity IT assets, website consolidation, cloud computing, and unnecessary government-wide acquisition contracts. Paul Wohlleben of FedTech wonders if such an act could really get the job done.

He notes that the legislation seeks to strengthen IT acquisition via a more complex system of centers and contracts, but many advocates believe that it is actually less complexity with more transparency that will really bolster IT acquisition. Further criticism is levied against the effort at eliminating duplication and waste, saying that the act reaches for “low-hanging fruit” and that a more effective way to reduce these things would be to eliminate duplicate programs and systems, which require a much greater effort.

Echoing a common sentiment these days, Wohlleben says real reform comes from cooperating with other executives. People working in sync bears more natural and efficient results than attempting to strengthen the role of one particular executive, which might throw the overall organizational management out of balance. He also muses that the creation of a chief management officer for each department is an idea worth a more serious look.

Going forward, Wohlleben finds that successful federal CIOs should share the following characteristics:

  • Authority
  • Accountability
  • Influence
  • Management Competence
  • Technical Understanding

On the question if any of these characteristics can be defined by statute, he answers:

While accountability can be established in statute, I believe the mechanics of how CIOs are held accountable and how their performance is measured requires more dynamic positioning. The statute should define the areas the CIO is accountable for and who will perform the evaluation, but not establish the mechanics.

He adds that authority, however, can be dealt with in statute, while management competence and technical understanding are a matter of education which could not be controlled well through legislation. On the whole, what it comes down to is the capability of individual CIOs, and while legislation could potentially strengthen them at the federal level, it will never be the great cure-all for the challenges facing the CIO.

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