Want lasting IT reforms? Appoint a chief management officer.


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CMO should serve a fixed, nonpolitical term, technology advisers say.

Improving information technology performance and controlling spending during the next presidential administration will require reforms beyond the federal technology shop, a team of administrative leaders said Thursday.

To ensure those reforms take place, the next president should appoint a chief management officer at every major department and agency to oversee all management and administrative officials including the heads of IT, budget, finance, performance and acquisitions, the team led by former Commerce Department Chief Information Officer Alan Balutis, said.

The recommendations came in a “Memo to National Leaders” focused on IT and transparency, one of nine such memos the National Academy of Public Administration commissioned.

Agency chief management officers should serve a fixed term, the memo said, modeled in part on the term of the comptroller general, head of the Government Accountability Office, who serves for 15 years, or until he or she leaves office.

A fixed-term appointment will give management officers more freedom to focus on structural issues outside the concerns of day-to-day political considerations, Balutis said.

“Most of the people who come to Washington to take over running agencies are interested in their policy accomplishments and new initiatives,” Balutis said, “not so much on ‘was I a good steward?’ . . . I think you need an official who has all the management and administrative arrows in her or his quiver to give this the importance that is necessary.”

In the IT realm, the management officer and CIO’s focus should be on using technology to improve overall agency performance and effectively managing the implementation of new programs, the memo said.

It recommended continuing to shorten the life cycle of government IT projects so they aren’t outpaced by technology advancements.

The memo also suggested doubling down on the federal digital strategy, published in May, noting “all services that can be provided digitally should be,” including issuing government benefits through electronic transfers.

Other memo authors were Gary Bass, former director of OMB Watch; Daniel Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government; and Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, a nonprofit focused on technology issues in local government.

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