How Federal IT Leadership Evolved Under Bush

From an e-government czar and CTO to an architect and administrator.
As we consider the role of President Obama's new federal CTO, it's important to understand how IT leadership is now structured in the federal government. While Obama is promising to appoint what he calls the "first federal CTO," there was in fact someone with that title at the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush administration.

That's Norm Lorentz, who in 2002 was named CTO, reporting to Mark Forman, the OMB's administrator for e-government and IT. Forman's job was also a first--the first e-government czar, charged with modernizing government IT for the Web and service-oriented architecture. Forman held the post for a little over two years. Lorentz focused on creating the government's enterprise architecture to support e-government initiatives.

After Forman left the OMB post in 2003 for the private sector, it was filled by Karen Evans, who served there until January, when President Bush left office. Evans eliminated the CTO post, and since then much of that architecture and infrastructure planning is done by a committee of the CIO Council, which consists of CIOs of federal agencies and departments, and by the federal chief architect, Kshemendra Paul, in the OMB.

Those moves made sense, Lorentz says. Once Forman and he established a federal enterprise IT architecture, it needed permanent support not tied to political appointments. Lorentz thinks Obama's planned CTO makes sense if he or she is "like a CTO in the private sector, injecting technology into products" like Web 2.0 tools for citizens, not focusing on the back office.

Federal CTO Norm Lorentz
For his and other executives' opinions, click here

As e-government administrator, Evans oversaw $71 billion of IT spending by federal agencies this fiscal year, balancing Bush administration goals and federal agency CIO priorities. Evans is best known for establishing a federal scorecard for each agency and department, rating the complexity and success of their IT projects. Federal CIOs generally report to an agency or department secretary or undersecretary, with a dotted line to the OMB administrator for e-government, who also directs the Council of CIOs.

The president also has a top science and technology adviser, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Obama named John Holdren, a Harvard professor of environmental policy, to that spot. Until the job was eliminated in 2007, the Commerce Department also had an official advocating for civilian technology innovation.

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It would be a mistake to put the forthcoming CTO in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, says Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, since it historically has been concerned with science policy. "This is different. It's IT policy," he says. "It shouldn't be subsumed in OSTP and especially shouldn't be subsumed in the OMB." When that happened in the Bush administration, it undercut real reform and change, he says. Lorentz, too, says the CTO needs to sit "close to the Cabinet" to drive "transformational change, not incremental improvements."

All this insider complexity points to a big risk for a new CTO. Observes Denis O'Leary, a former executive VP and CIO with Chase: "There's a lot of roadkill of well-intentioned corporate types getting chewed up with the governance processes of Washington."

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