The agency chief management officer: An old idea with new momentum

An agency chief management officer would 'professionalize the management of agency functions' according to one authority, and the idea is gaining support. Dwight Ink, who worked in the federal government for decades, pressed for the creation of such a role without success.

Dwight Ink

The chief management officer is not a new concept. Dwight Ink played a similar role for the Atomic Energy Commission from 1959 to 1965. (Photo: Iowa State University)

Recommendations on post-election government reform released last week call for the creation of Chief Management Officer positions within all major departments and agencies in the federal government.

As outlined in part of a joint project between the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration called “Memos to National Leaders,” all agency management and administrative positions, including the Chief Information Officer, would report to the CMO. These agency CMOs would serve “a fixed-year term akin to that of the Comptroller-General,” head of the Government Accountability office, which carries a 15-year term.

“The recommendation is really to try to professionalize the management of agency functions,” said Daniel Chenok, Executive Director of the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Chenok, who was part of the group that drafted the recommendations on IT reform, added that creating CMOs across federal agencies and departments would lead to cost savings and performance improvement, as well as overall management efficiency.

“Right now, CIO reporting varies across agencies in terms of reporting structure,” Chenok said. “Having a CMO would lend consistency not to just the CIO, but to other positions as well. All management functions would be integrated under one individual. I’m not trying to suggest there is one way to do it for each agency, but each agency could think about the recommendation and implement it in the manner most appropriate.”

Some departments and agencies already employ a variant of the CMO position. Chenok said the Army utilizes a CMO, while the Defense Department has a similar position called a Deputy Chief Management Officer.

 In 2007, the General Accountability Office called for the creation of a CMO in a report, suggesting several agencies could benefit from a CMO with term appointments of “five to seven years.”

“It’s not something that is a new idea to the federal government,” Chenok said.

 John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, said there’s good reason the idea keeps popping up.

“It’s a good recommendation,” Palguta said. “The basic impetus for it is that good management in government, including good IT management, requires a long range strategic view and continuity of operations. In IT, it takes a long amount of time to develop a plan and strategy and implement it and keep abreast of a rapidly changing field. With the political nature of government, you get regular changes in leadership. The CMO idea is a way to provide a continuity of leadership.”

The recommendations do not specify how a CMO would be installed, but they do suggest the position should be filled from career Senior Executive Services (SES) ranks.

CIOs, then, would assume specific functions such as information security, strategic use of information and technology, and management of IT and information infrastructure.

To some, the push for agency CMOs is a significant step in the direction of a more streamlined federal government.

Dwight Ink, who served at various federal agencies under the leadership of seven American presidents, said he’s “pressed for” a position like the CMO for decades to no avail. Ink held a similar position – assistant general manager of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1959-1965 – and said he witnessed firsthand the benefits of “streamlined operations and simplified procedures.” The current government, he said, could use those two things right now.

“What we’ve really done is fragment management now,” Ink said. “We have these different offices now, which are useful in some ways, but they tend to focus pretty much on procedures rather than broad elements of management. This step is badly needed.”

For full transcripts of all the memos released to date, visit