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10/19/2011
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Federal CIOs Cite Limits To Authority

GAO also says federal CIOs leave office too soon to make significant changes in their agencies.

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Federal CIOs face limitations to exercising the authority given to them by law over some agency IT management decisions, and those limitations impede their ability to do their job, a federal watchdog agency has found.

Moreover, CIOs spend an average of two years on the job, not enough time to effectively make changes in their respective organizations, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO examined the roles of 30 government CIOs and found that in the areas of certain IT investments and workforce decisions, they have limited influence, even though by law they have the authority to oversee these areas, according to the report, which was completed in mid-September but released this week.

By law, CIOs are given responsibility over 13 areas of IT and information management. But the GAO found that all of the CIOs polled for the report were in charge of only five of those areas, with the majority--or between 23 and 27--saying they were responsible for seven.

However, CIOs had mixed views on whether not being in charge of certain areas had an affect on their leadership abilities, according to the report.

The IT management activities CIOs said they oversee the most are: capital planning and investment; the development of enterprise architectures; the designation of a senior IT security official; strategic planning to map IT investment to agency operations and goals; systems acquisition; managing e-government requirements; and skilled IT workforce strategies.

However, in six areas related to information management, dissemination and disclosure, as well as policy and coordination, only between six and 22 CIOs said they had responsibilities, according to the report.

Areas in which the GAO found lack of authority particularly troublesome were responsibilities for making decisions on who to fire and who to hire, and control over IT investments, according to the report. They also historically have not had great control over IT budgets, another factor that is contributing to their lack of success at enacting change.

These and other issues identified in the report are not new problems. The GAO points out in the report that they are consistent with historical barriers federal CIOs have faced, which were identified in a similar report conducted in 2004.

"Despite the broad authority given to CIOs in federal law, these officials face limitations that hinder their ability to effectively exercise this authority, which has contributed to many of the long-standing IT management challenges we have found in our work," according to the GAO.

To be fair, the feds have been working recently to try to clarify the role of federal CIO and broaden responsibilities so they can more effectively perform their duties.

In one of his first moves as U.S. CIO in August, Steven VanRoekel outlined an expanded role for federal CIOs, directing them to oversee IT governance; more cost-effective management of commodity IT resources; program management; and information security.

For its part, the GAO recommends that OMB establish accountability for making sure CIOs' responsibilities are fully implemented and require agencies implement internal processes for keeping track of lessons learned.

The OMB said it's already taking the necessary steps to implement these recommendations, according to the GAO.

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