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Federal CIOs need more authority to better manage IT

Kenneth Corbin | June 12, 2013
Seeking ways to reduce duplication in federal IT spending and managing IT more efficiently, Senate panel hears pleas for stronger central authorities for department and agency CIOs.

Witnesses at Tuesday's hearing testified that federal agencies, much like businesses in the private sector, should take an enterprise-wide approach to their IT operations, one that considers the totality of their portfolio when making decisions about any new initiative, ranging from replacing duplicative email systems with a single cloud-based application or consolidating data centers.

Powner credits departments and agencies with having made significant strides toward modernizing their IT operations and bringing transparency to their operations through reporting on the status of projects on the federal IT dashboard, though he is careful not to overstate that progress. For instance, on the IT dashboard, where CIOs submit evaluations of their technology projects, the Defense Department -- by far the largest government consumer of IT -- does not identify a single IT investment in red to denote that the project is in danger of failing, which Powner (and Coburn) says is patently inaccurate.

"You can't fix a problem on your acquisition if you don't acknowledge that you have a problem," Powner says.

Data Center Consolidation Lacking in Absence of Central CIO Authority
Then on data center consolidation, Powner says he would like to see agencies move toward a point where they are more closely aligned with industry, boasting server-utilization rates on the order of 60 percent to 70 percent. At present, he estimates that agencies are typically running utilization rates in the range of 5 percent to 15 percent.

The government-wide push to consolidate data centers, scale back infrastructure and improve efficiencies is slowed by an incomplete picture of the government's IT footprint, which in part traces back to the absence of central CIO authority. At the Department of Commerce, for instance, the "overwhelming majority" of data centers are managed at the bureau level, Commerce CIO Simon Szykman testified. Powner adds that reporting has also been incomplete, describing the recent revelation of some 1,000 previously unaccounted-for data centers, most small in scale and many belonging to various entities within the departments of Agriculture and Defense.

Even at the low end, on commodity systems such as email, the technology shops at the various bureaus within an agency commonly operate as semi-autonomous fiefdoms, Powner says, suggesting that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) take a stronger stance on advancing CIO authority.

"We are currently learning that many agency CIOs do not have authority over commodity IT, which is not a very high bar," Powner says. "Each agency needs more leadership, and also there needs to be more leadership out of OMB if we are truly to do this right over time."

 

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