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Why Defense CIOs Remain Furloughed

Defense Department CIO Teri Takai

Defense Department CIO Teri Takai // Al Goldis/AP File Photo

UPDATE: The original version of this story said all Defense Department chief information officers remained on furlough. Defense officials on Tuesday pulled back from previous statements to clarify that most but not all of the department's CIOs remained furloughed. This story has been updated throughout. Defense CIO Teri Takai has been excepted from furoughs. 

Most civilian Defense Department chief information officers and their staffs remain on mandatory leave, a Pentagon spokesman told Nextgov, even though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has recalled 90 percent of the 350,000 civilian workers furloughed last week.

Hagel, in his recall memo, said the Justice Department determined that the Pay Our Military Act signed by President Obama on Sept. 30 allowed the Pentagon to recall civilian employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service.

Defense Comptroller Robert Hale explained that “certain areas simply were not covered” by the Pay Our Military Act. Falling outside the interpretation of the law are “chief information officer functions, but not Internet protocol and cyber functions; legislative and public affairs functions, but not internal public affairs communications; deputy chief management office functions at the Office of the Secretary of Defense and component levels, and auditors and related functions.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Nextgov, “The comptroller's guidance applies to all CIOs and their staffs across the Department of Defense.” Later, he clarified that there were some exceptions. 

Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of global public policy for information technology industry trade group TechAmerica, said the policy to sideline CIOs and their staffs goes far beyond just the Pentagon and the services, with CIOs at all the component commands, such as the U.S. Central Command, and even some bases.

Before the clarification, Hodgkins said that the decision not to recall CIOs and their staffs makes no sense as they, among other things, help maintain email systems used by troops to communicate with their families, which could fall under the morale and well-being interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act.

He said information systems are ubiquitous within Defense and that cyber stands aside land, sea and air warfare as a key battleground. “CIOs can’t be anything but essential.”

Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, agreed, calling it “staggering” that CIOs and their staffs remain furloughed. “Information technology is at the center of Defense mission critical systems. It is the lifeblood of the Pentagon,” Suss said.

Defense CIO Teri Takai has been excepted from furloughs, and Army acting CIO Mike Krieger also remained on the job. Lt. Gen. Michael J. Basla, who serves as the Air Force CIO and as an active duty service member, was not furloughed. 

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