Trump Strengthens Agency CIO Authority with Executive Order

Evan Vucci/AP

The order puts presidential weight behind past legislation giving government CIOs more authority over hiring and budget.

In December 2014, Congress gave government chief information officers new powers and authority to manage the IT enterprise at their departments and component agencies under the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA.

Three and a half years later, CIOs don’t have the authority they need, administration officials said Tuesday.

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday afternoon giving presidential weight to mandates of FITARA, specifically the parts that give department CIOs authority over hiring, budgets and setting the IT agenda for the entire department enterprise.

The administration has a three-pronged plan to modernize federal IT: institutional change, placing people in key positions and achieving early wins to gain momentum, said a senior White House official, speaking on background ahead of the signing. Tuesday’s executive order focuses on the first of those efforts.

“This is a foundational stint in a multi-year journey,” the official said.

The executive order largely echoes the mandates in FITARA, which sought to give agency CIOs more authority over hiring and budgets, as well as a “seat at the table” among agency leaders.

But FITARA hasn’t been fully effective, administration officials noted, stating that only half of department CIOs currently report directly to agency leadership as mandated.

The order calls out all of these issues while adding another layer: requiring a place for CIOs as voting members on agencies’ current bureau-level IT governance boards.

“The true answer to modernizing government technology is to build the capacity to conduct change on an ongoing basis,” said Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president and head of the White House Office of American Innovation. “By ensuring that agency CIOs are empowered, today’s action by President Trump is a critical step forward in building that change management capacity.”

Federal CIO Suzette Kent agreed, saying the government will never be able to modernize its systems without first updating its processes.

“President Trump understands CIOs have an important role at their agencies to drive results," she said in a statement Tuesday, "and this executive order furthers their ability to be mission enablers in providing the quality service not only to their federal agency but to the American people.”

Holding agency leadership accountable has been a focus of the Trump administration since the beginning. Notably, in his early days in office, Trump postponed signing an executive order on cybersecurity because, according to the administration, the president wanted to include language that would put the onus for cybersecurity and IT modernization on top agency officials.

Accountability is also one of the three pillars of the President’s Management Agenda released in March. During a Nextgov exclusive interview, Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, cited accountability as one of the differentiators that will set the Trump administration’s tech agenda apart from previous administrations.

The administration is “really creating a holistic approach and a center of gravity,” she said during the April interview. “And then the last thing is assigning agency leaders—and in some cases more than one agency leader—to really provide a leading light around how we dig in and get this done… I think that orientation and the folks we’ve got lined up are being held accountable, are committed to delivering.”

Accountability is also a key part of the Homeland Security Department’s cybersecurity strategy, also released Tuesday.

“Strong leadership and executive support are needed to evolve and transform the way the government invests in IT,” said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for public sector at the Information Technology Industry Council. “The executive order from the Trump administration announced today puts CIOs in a position to effectively drive this IT modernization across the federal government and fully implement the Clinger-Cohen Act and the FITARA Act.”