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3/23/2010
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Federal CIOs Seek Direction On Open Government

Agency officials say they are taking steps to make government more transparent, but worry that their efforts lack structure and could come at a price for security.

Federal chief information officers are taking steps to support the Obama administration's call for a more open and transparent government, but worry that their efforts lack clear structure and could come at a price for security, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Nearly all of the 40 CIOs who responded to the yearly survey -- released by TechAmerica and Grant Thornton -- said that while they're "fuzzy" on where open government will lead them, they think it's generally in the right direction.

"Transparency will set you free," according to an unnamed federal CIO interviewed for the survey, while another said that he will "know what open and transparent government is when I see it."

CIOs said that, lacking a clear definition about what the public wants and needs with respect to government information, they are creating their own.

Primarily, transparency efforts fall into two categories: providing more access to information and increasing collaboration and participation through social media.

Examples of the former include projects such as Data.gov, USASpending.gov, and the Federal IT Dashboard, all of which provide people a closer look at government activities.

Examples of the latter include allowing people within government agencies to use Facebook and Twitter, as well as allowing government officials to communicate government news and information through blogs.

Of the 40 CIOs surveyed, all said they were using social media in some way. Forty percent are currently developing policy for social media; 30% said they provide access to it and encourage its use both inside and outside of the organization; and 15% said they are allowing it for in-house use only.

Still, even as they are embracing the technologies and processes for government transparency, CIOs cite cybersecurity as the number-one challenge to making these efforts a success, according to the survey.

It comes as little surprise that cybersecurity is first and foremost on CIOs' minds. Indeed, it is a top priority with most government agencies and for the Obama administration in general.

Providing a secure framework for open government also is complicated by the fact that many people in government agencies still lack a basic understanding of how critical security is, according to the survey. Several CIOs noted that a high percentage of security breaches occur because internal users are careless and don't take security seriously.

Legacy applications also are a threat because they were not built with security in mind. Moreover, CIOs said they face a challenge in attracting and retaining certified security professionals, according to the survey.

Aside from security and lack of clear direction, CIOs cited legacy infrastructure, lack of policy, and the need for improved tools, especially in the areas of search, data analytics, and data quality, as obstacles to open government initiatives.

They also said that, in general, they lack adequate time for strategic planning and thinking, citing this as the top barrier to increasing their effectiveness on the job.

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