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Federal CIOs need authority to improve IT efficiency

Kenneth Corbin | March 1, 2013
The soon-to-be-introduced Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act would grant agency CIOs control over federal IT budgets, encourage cloud computing and seek to reduce waste and under-performing technology programs.

CIOs See Need for IT Reforms

Federal CIOs, for their part, acknowledge the need for IT reforms, though they also point to concrete steps that departments and agencies have taken, some in response to directives from the White House such as the mandate to consolidate data centers and shift operations to the cloud.

Richard Spires, CIO of the Department of Homeland Security, touts a number of initiatives he has been overseeing under the broad goal of "rationalizing our IT infrastructure."

According to Spires, DHS has shuttered 16 data centers for an average savings of 14 percent, and is in the midst of rolling out 11 new cloud services and incorporating new cybersecurity standards in its remaining data centers.

At the same time, he emphasized that broader reforms are needed, including some of the organizational changes envisioned in Issa's IT reform bill.

"We need to, and we can, manage IT more effectively," Spires says.

For starters, he suggests that all proposed acquisitions should be reviewed and cleared by the agency CIO. "This will help ensure that IT procurement meet architecture guidelines, are not duplicative, and are properly staffed," he says. "Given the structure of agency budgets and organizations, it is very difficult for an agency CIO to have the tools needed to drive such standardization."

In service of further standardization, Spires also recommends the establishment of interagency groups to develop government-wide guidelines and best practices for program management and strategic IT sourcing, so that agencies wouldn't have to start from scratch each time they contemplate a new IT project.

Then, too, Spires is working at DHS to formalize career paths for IT workers to pursue on a technical or managerial track.

The Search for IT Talent

But hiring managers with federal agencies face unique challenges in recruiting top IT talent. They, of course, find themselves competing in the labor market with private-sector firms, which are not bound by federal compensation schedules and can generally bring new employees on board more quickly.

The effectiveness of federal workforce is further challenged by the tendency of some generally conservative members of Congress to denigrate government employees in public remarks about the need to cut federal spending, according to Daniel Gordon, associate dean for government procurement law studies at the George Washington University Law School.

Gordon, who previous headed OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, warns that that sort of rhetoric, which has pervaded the recent debates over the budget between the White House and Congress, has a corrosive effect on morale throughout the ranks of the federal workforce.

"No successful company would treat its employees the way federal employees have been treated recently--repeated pay freezes, threats of unpaid furlough days and general disrespect, as if our employees were causing our nation's fiscal imbalances," Gordon says.


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