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CIO Council To Trump: Don't Forget About Federal IT

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President Donald Trump hasn't chosen a White House chief information officer yet, but whoever it is will be undertaking a massive project, a group of federal CIOs says.

The CIO Council published its "State of Federal IT" report last week in an effort to educate the incoming administration on major government IT modernization efforts, including the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act and open data programs that digitize government information and make it available to the public.

Despite ambitious modernization efforts under Barack Obama, the federal government still has a "poor track record in acquiring, developing and managing federal IT investments," the report said. As of September, about 43 percent of federal IT projects were "over budget or behind schedule."

When a new federal CIO is appointed, he or she should focus on "[e]nsuring the highest value in IT investments," cybersecurity, improving the government's digital services for citizens, and developing the IT workforce, the report said.

At the agency level, CIOs need to "be fully integrated, as an independent stakeholder, into all the elements of the agency’s process for developing and delivering IT investments."

The report recommended the administration apply the "‘fail fast’ attitude of modern IT practices to the policy development and oversight process," so policymakers can adjust based if modernization tactics aren't working.

It also advised against needlessly proliferating new C-suite positions.

“The last few years have seen an increase in different 'chiefs'—chief technology officers, chief data officers, chief innovation officers and the like," the council noted. But if responsibilities are fragmented, "it can be more difficult for leadership to obtain an enterprisewide view of an agency."

An effective CIO office would be the "one central point of accountability for the information and information technology of an agency."

Here are a few other findings the council surfaced for the Trump administration, culled from interviews with federal leadership:

  1.  As of now, the role of the CIO varies greatly across agencies, potentially because their missions are defined differently. FITARA, which aimed to assign more responsibilities including budget authority to the CIO, has helped, but "many agencies still need to work towards bringing the CIO to a more visible role within the executive leadership."
  2. Often, federal IT "only gets leadership attention when it fails." Agency leadership generally focuses on IT programs directly related to the mission or are customer facing. That means simply maintaining infrastructure isn't as high a priority, "creating issues that affect mission performance, such as losing internet access or email functionality."
  3. Open government and open data programs don't get the necessary resources. Many CIOs told the council while they support sharing information with the public, "they face challenges" keeping them going because of budget limitations, meaning other topics—such as cybersecurity—take precedence. 
  4. The federal IT workforce needs to be nurtured. Though Trump instituted a hiring freeze in his first days in office, the CIO Council noted investment in cyber recruiting is necessary to protect the nation's cybersecurity. The Cyber Sprint, a 30-day effort to shore up cybersecurity practices across the federal government, highlighted the need for talent, but CIOs are still reporting that even when they found "well-qualified candidates for cybersecurity positions ... those candidates ended up taking other jobs—often in the private sector."

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