US CIO Tony Scott Says Federal IT is Now a ‘Contact Sport.’ Here’s the Rulebook.


New OMB guidance aims to break down barriers that have sprouted up between IT decision-makers and other agency officials.

Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott signed off on long-awaited guidelines Thursday boosting the power government CIOs can exercise when it comes to their agencies’ IT budgets.

In remarks Friday at a conference, Scott said the message of the guidance isn’t to put CIOs on a special pedestal but to break down barriers that have sprouted up between IT decision-makers and other agency officials, especially chief financial officers.

“You can't have the sort of traditional silos and walls that, in some cases, we've had over the years,” Scott said at the 2015 CFO-CIO Summit. “And I tell my IT colleagues, this is now a contact sport. You have to be involved. You have to be engaged.”

The conference was hosted by the Association of Government Accountants and the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

The crown jewel of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, approved by Congress and signed into law by the president in December, expanded so-called budget authority for agency CIOs. FITARA gives CIOs the authority to approve their agencies’ annual IT budgets, final authority to sign IT contracts and reprogram IT funds and input into the hiring of bureau-level CIOs.

The newly released guidance from the Office of Management and Budget sets out a common baseline of CIO authorities all agencies will have to meet. The gist of those baselines: CIOs and CFOs -- along with other members of an agency’s C-suite -- will have to find ways to work together productively.

OMB is taking comments on the new guidance through May 30. By August, agencies will have to complete a self-assessment evaluating how they stack up to OMB’s benchmarks.

"We realize that not all agencies are the same . . . So, we're not thinking of this as a one-size-fits-all sort of model,” Scott said. Still, agency plans should be crafted "in the spirit" of the OMB guidance, he added.

Many CIOs and other agency officials agree OMB’s guidance largely formalizes a process and relationships that already exist in some forward-thinking agencies.

Others, though, may have more of a ways to go in implementing the guidance.

"I think the challenge for us is how to apply this when we've got international operations,” said Alaina Teplitz, the director of the State Department’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation, during a panel discussion at the summit. “Our business model is not necessarily the one that is envisioned in FITARA. So, we'll have to figure out how to make that up in a way that works for the agency."

She also added, "I think we also have some concern not that the intent itself is bad but that we are loading a lot on the CIO and we have to figure out how to manage that balance."

The expansion of CIO authorities, at first, may give some members of the C-suite some heartburn, acknowledged Lee Loftus, assistant attorney general for administration in the Justice Department.

But the boosting of the CIO role is in service to greater collaboration, he said. It’s not about throwing out existing processes and merely installing the CIO at the head of a new decision-making table.

“That's not what FITARA is trying to do,” Loftus said. “It ought to be an integrated IT budget-approval process where that CIO and the CFO and the program area are all working together."