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A View of Fractured CIO Roles

There has been a steady increase in Congressional attention to information technology. This is shown by requests to GAO to report about the ways in which legislative mandates have been carried out. The most recent report, “Federal Chief Information Officers: Opportunities Exist to Improve Role in Information Technology Management”  is critical how the government handles the accountability of CIO leadership.1

GAO listed the statutory responsibilities that require CIOs to be responsible for IT. As a precedent there is a long list since 1994 of reports that has documented a consistent lack of accomplishments.2  The GAO offered the following findings:

1. The majority of CIOs were not fully accountable for the 13 areas that were assigned to them by statute. Most of the CIOs did not have responsibility for information collection, records management, privacy and statistical policies. As result, statutory requirements were not met.
2. About half of the CIOs were holding jobs in addition to serving as the CIO. Holding multiple positions is contrary to the federal law.
3. Federal law calls for agency CIOs to report to the head of an agency. Only 17 of 30 CIOs had such a relationship.
4. The median tenure time for CIOs was just under 2 years. That is inadequate since it takes at least 3-7 years to implement major changes.
5. CIOs reported that they were hindered in exercising their authority over agency IT budgets, component IT spending, and staff.
6. Close to a half of the CIOs did not have the power to cancel information technology projects.
7. CIOs faced limitations in their ability to influence agency decisions on integrating systems within their agencies.
8. In a number of agencies the CIO did not have visibility into a majority of the agency’s discretionary investments and could not ensure that the investments were delivering expected returns.
9. In many cases the CIOs did not have hiring capability for IT staff, influencing component agency CIOs’ performance ratings.
10. CIOs do not always participate in selections for candidate personnel and did not participate in the component CIOs’ performance reviews.

The top CIO leadership position in DoD is that of the OSD CIO.  There were five executives in that job in seven years. Of these two OSD CIOs were political appointments, which require an extended period for orientation. The term for serving as the top DoD CIO requires a much longer tenure, of at least five to seven years.3

There were five Air Force, five Army and four Navy CIOs during this period. In almost every case the terms for the top DoD CIOs did not overlap with services CIOs, which made the launching of shared programs difficult.

The Clinger-Cohen legislation established the position of the CIO. It was inadequate for the creation of a solid foundation for managerial accountability for DoD IT spending. Its primary focus was to clarify acquisition responsibilities. All other critical questions, which addressed matters such as control over budgets or personnel, were left to prevail along lines that had roots in processes dating back to “cold-war” administrative methods.

This is why the latest GAO report should be read as an unfavorable view of the inadequacies how leadership and accountability for DoD IT is managed.

 2 GAO/AIMD-94-115; GAO-01-376G; GAO-04-49; GAO-04-823; GAO-04-394G; GAO-09-566; GAO-10-872T 
 3 Strassmann served as the first de-facto appointee in this position as Director of Defense Information, before the title CIO was established.

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