Written by Tod Tompkins
Technology has long been praised as the panacea for federal spending – whether as a way to reduce duplicative manual processes through automation, or by providing greater efficiency. As the stewards of technology across the government, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) play a vital role in the cost savings paradigm. But what makes an effective CIO? Is it technical acumen, business training, the ability to manage federal programs, or is it more a function of interpersonal skills – having the capacity to collaborate?
Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the state of federal CIOs, finding that they “face limitations that hinder their ability to effectively exercise authority.” The news is discouraging, since it suggests that, no matter how effective the individual may be, organizational issues will ultimately define the outcome. These issues, the report goes on to describe, include budget authority, investment decisions, and even staffing. Now, members of Congress are demanding reform, asking that the administration move more aggressively in shifting the role of CIOs from that of policymakers and IT maintenance-workers to portfolio managers.
The key question is: if CIOs are not making these decisions – decisions of budget, management, and staffing – then who is? In this time of shrinking budgets and the ever-deafening call to do “more-with-less,” each choice in the decision-making process must be driven by an informed weighing of the options, asking what is most effective, what is proven, and how can it be achieved swiftly? Unfortunately, if these decisions aren’t made consciously by CIOs, but instead left to budget directors – or worse, decided based on what happened in the past – then technology will not play a constructive role in quelling the budget crisis…and neither will the agencies that depend on it.