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CIOs Used to Keeping 'the Trains Running on Time' Should Adjust to Broader Role

U.S. CIO Tony Scott

U.S. CIO Tony Scott // Susan Walsh/AP

Once left on the outskirts of their agency’s IT budget decision-making, government chief information officers are seeing a much-needed transformation that has made them more active in those discussions. And it's all thanks to the eight-month-old Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, according to U.S. CIO Tony Scott.

“Our expectation is that the CIO is engaged at the most strategic level with the executive management team, with the agency leadership, and even subcomponent leadership, around the design intent and the business outcome that’s desired,” Scott said Tuesday at the FITARA Forum hosted by MeriTalk in Washington, D.C.

The main purpose of the law is to supply CIOs with the authority to manage their agency's IT budget. It also requires agencies to get approval from their CIO before signing IT contracts or reprogramming IT funds.

On Saturday, agencies will begin to feel the full force of FITARA. At midnight, their self-assessments and strategies for meeting the common baseline rules are due.

Scott said he wanted to use Tuesday's event as an opportunity to discuss expectations surrounding those FITARA strategies.

CIOs have become accustomed to simply keeping “the trains running on time,” Scott said. Their role needs to become much broader.

“I think the future CIO has to be more balanced in terms of his or her focus, more strategic and more involved in the agency discussion about how that agency fulfills its role in the future,” Scott said.

As agencies become increasingly digital, they will likely also become much more citizen focused and outcome oriented, he said. It will fall to the CIO to guide management toward the right outcomes.

Scott gave the example of an idea Richard McKinney, CIO of the Transportation Department, had told him about recently. They were discussing cybersecurity and the challenges associated with phishing, when McKinney suggested sending a test phishing email to all federal employees.

Whoever opens it must sign up for a cybersecurity course before doing anything else. “I think that's one we may go implement,” Scott said.

“We have the opportunity to make some very significant changes in the way federal IT is run and managed across the federal government,” he said.

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