Social Security Administration CIO Needs Stronger Authority, Watchdog says

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The agency’s top tech official weighs in on budget and information security processes but has little role in other mandated responsibilities.

The Social Security Administration’s top tech official needs to play a bigger role in managing the agency’s IT investments and tech workforce, according to a congressional watchdog.

The administration has for years struggled with managing and modernizing its IT infrastructure, but it recently took significant steps to improving technology management and operations, the Government Accountability Office reported on Thursday. But while the agency is making strides in data center consolidation and IT acquisitions, its chief information officer remains out of the loop on many critical policy decisions, auditors found.

The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act mandates agency CIOs take the helm on six key IT management issues: leadership and accountability, strategic planning, workforce development, budgeting, investment management and information security. In May, the White House also issued an executive order further strengthening CIOs’ authority over hiring and long-term IT planning.

While today the Social Security CIO plays a bigger leadership role, the agency’s current policies don’t fully detail the official’s responsibilities in any of the other five areas.

GAO found the administration doesn’t require the CIO to assess how IT projects benefit agency programs. The CIO also is completely absent from discussions around managing IT personnel and addressing skill gaps within the workforce, auditors said.

And though the CIO is “partially” involved in IT investment management and “substantially” involved in budgeting and information security processes, GAO said the administration has yet to hand over all responsibilities in those areas to its top tech official.

“Following through to ensure that the identified weaknesses are addressed in its policies will be essential to helping [the Social Security Administration] overcome its longstanding IT management challenges,” auditors wrote in the report.

Agency officials told GAO they intend to address the shortcomings by the end of the month.