5 Reasons Why Clinger-Cohen Failed

The 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which established the chief information officer position at agencies, among other things, was signed into law this month 14 years ago. By most accounts, it hasn't lived up to expectations. In fact, many say it's a downright failure.

The 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which established the chief information officer position at agencies, among other things, was signed into law this month 14 years ago. By most accounts, it hasn't lived up to expectations. In fact, many say it's a downright failure.

The latest to weigh in on the disappointment is Alan Balutis, distinguished fellow and director of North American public sector consulting for the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group and a former federal CIO. In an article that appeared on Wednesday on MeriTalk, a social media site for the federal technology community, Balutis says it is high time we accept the fact the Clinger-Cohen Act has been a flop. "Isn't it time to pull the plug and admit we failed?" he wrote. "CIOs in the federal government are ill-defined positions that haven't worked well in the almost 15 years since they were created."

His three reasons for failure closely align with what I learned when writing an article in 2006 on the 10-year anniversary of the enactment Clinger-Cohen Act for CIO Magazine. (Let me just say the article was not warmly embraced by the administration at the time.) Balutis was one of the dozens of people I interviewed for the article, so it might not be a surprise his opinions are similar to those in the article.

Collectively here are the five reasons why CCA has failed:

1. Not Da Man. CIOs don't report to the head of the agency, even though CCA requires it. "Today, many remain buried under a chief financial officer or assistant secretary," Balutis wrote.

2. No Techie Managers. Many political appointees without CIO experience fill the posts and they leave too quickly to make a difference. "To effectively develop and oversee the implementation of major programs, CIOs need to stick around," I wrote in 2006. "The average tenure of a federal CIO today is two years, according to [the Government Accountability Office]." (Balutis says the average tenure is 18 to 22 months.)

3. All the Responsibility But None of the Authority. Federal CIOs don't have budget authority, the two exceptions being the Veterans Affairs Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The CCA "doesn't match the actual authorities most CIOs in government have," Balutis wrote.

4. Government's Reportitis. CIOs are buried in paperwork. The CCA was supposed to streamline procurement and technology decisions, but agencies spend most of their time writing reports for the Office of Management and Budget and Congress. By some accounts, half of an IT staff's time is filling out paper work.

5. Ignoring -- or Not Funding -- the Basics. The CCA emphasized improving project management skills, requiring CIOs to assess the skills they had, determine which ones they needed, and then hire or train employees to fill the gaps. But inspectors general, project management experts and federal managers said government IT managers "routinely do not follow even some of the more basic project management practices," leading to project failure after project failure, I wrote. This was one of the biggest concerns Mark Forman, a partner with KPMG, voiced when he was OMB's first administrator of the Office of E-Government and IT from 2001 to 2003 in the Bush administration.

NEXT STORY: Debunking the Net Generation

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