OMB to give CIOs IT hunting license through broadening of authorities

Friday - 10/19/2012, 5:23am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The Office of Management and Budget is preparing to mandate changes to how agencies designate both the title and the role of their chief information officer.

Steven VanRoekel, the federal CIO, said the initiative is about giving CIOs the ability to reach into the dark corners of the agency where IT spending hides.

He said CIOs need "to have the authority, the seat at the table in the Investment Review Board and then reach down and look at that. We are looking at starting to institutionalize that. This office put out a memo about a year ago — the first one that was issued by me on this topic — and we've been really working hard to drive that behavior."

Steven VanRoekel, federal CIO

The hidden IT is just one example of why OMB believes CIOs need more oversight and authority. VanRoekel said there are too many instances where the CIO doesn't know his or her agency is spending on IT until it's basically too late.

"Many [CIOs], if they were in the component, have more budget and authority than maybe now they have at the top of the org chart, which is an interesting notion, which you could imagine," he said in the Oct. 12 meeting of the President's Management Advisory Board (PMAB) in Washington.

The PMAB is made up of private sector and non-profit experts who give the government ideas and best practices around IT, acquisition, human capital and financial management.

A second attempt to improve CIOs

This would be OMB's second major modification to give CIOs more authority over their bureaus. In August 2011, OMB issued a memo putting CIOs in charge of all commodity IT spending across their agency.

But that memo has brought change slowly, VanRoekel said.

"We are just now getting at that inflection point where the view of IT as sort of more of a discretionary thing tipping over into more of a strategic thing is starting to be realized," he said.

OMB Acting Director Jeff Zients said CIOs have a "weak staff" in many agencies.

To combat this lack of authority, Zients said OMB is convinced it needs to require agencies to name a single CIO for the entire department, who has budget oversight to the extent possible.

Jeff Zients, acting director, OMB

"We believe it's the right answer because it's ultimately we will get strategic sourcing done, it's ultimately how we will have strong PortfolioStats and it's also importantly how we will attract the very best and brightest to do the job," he said.

Zients didn't offer more details on how OMB would further strengthen the CIO's role and authority. A request to OMB for comment or more details was not returned.

The departments of Veterans Affairs and Interior are two of the most prominent examples of agencies that have given their CIOs a higher level of authority.

Congress put VA's CIO responsibilities into law. At Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar made the change through policy.

Huge changes at Interior

Interior CIO Bernie Mazer said the difference today from four years ago is night and day.

"The tenor of the CIO within Interior was as a policy shop," he said. "There was no service delivery, no ensuring the delivery of results or measurements or looking really at investments from a strategic or mission driver perspective. We had 30 people who nominated themselves as CIOs."

Zients said Interior has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other and now is a model for other agencies.

There are no more bureau CIOs at Interior. They now are assistant director for information resources (ADIR). Mazer's office has final authority over all IT spending as well.

Mazer said he approves any spending of more than $2,500 for IT.

He also is asking the bureaus for annual spending plans and is creating a vendor management organization to oversee the purchasing of commonly needed IT, such as desktops, laptops and printers.

Mazer said he also expects to hire someone to lead the vendor management organization in the coming months. The VMO will bring together expertise in technology, contracting and vendor relationships to direct the buying of IT across the agency.

Expanding CIO authorities is one of three areas VanRoekel is focusing on to have a lasting and long-term effect on how agencies buy and use IT. Additionally, he said the goal is to make better and broader use of investment review boards and utilize PortfolioStat sessions to bring them all these efforts together.

PortfolioStat report to show potential savings

VanRoekel said his office met with 28 agencies in July about PortfolioStat and agencies submitted plans to OMB in August detailing what areas of their portfolio they will address and how much potential savings could occur.

OMB expects to issue a high-level report on PortfolioStat in the coming month or so.

"I mentioned sort of a window of about $500 million the last time we met," VanRoekel said. "By the results I've seen we will greatly by orders of magnitude exceed that. And you will see that happen."

He said the Social Security Administration used PortfolioStat for how it buys desktops and laptops. Through enterprise purchasing, SSA expects to save 56 percent per hardware device, which comes to about $60 million over the next year.

Additionally, VanRoekel said OMB is developing version 2 of PortfolioStat, which will try to address shadow or hidden IT.

In the same regards, VanRoekel said OMB is trying to teach agencies to use the information from PortfolioStat and their investment review boards to make better decisions by using evaluation models.

"We are thinking about how do you have a common view across the enterprise to value these investments?" he said. "We learned a lot on our trip to Adobe on evaluation models and some of our other visits. We know are delivering training to agencies on how to establish a rigor on valuing this people investment versus this IT investment versus this other investment, and normalize that across so you can actually stack rank this stuff and understand where you draw the line to invest and where not to invest."

VanRoekel said he hopes that by infusing all of these activities into the budget process and giving CIOs more authority and responsibility, agencies can save money and, just as importantly, meet citizen and customer expectations better.

And with all the pressures on agencies, especially from the budget, VanRoekel said OMB is trying to fast track several of these initiatives to help agencies use data to make better decisions.

"The first couple of years we spent a fair amount of time getting deep and piloting, picking some low hanging fruit and we started to shift with Steve arriving to how do we start to hardwire in so things go beyond the time we are here," Zients said. "I think PortfolioStat, which wouldn't have happened but for PMAB's input, is one across all of government the top five hardwiring things we've done."

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