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Most CIOs can't track IT spending

May. 7, 2013 - 12:59PM   |  

Most chief information officers are not confident in their ability to estimate and track information technology spending at their agencies, a new survey finds.

The chief reason: Most CIOs do not oversee all IT spending, and IT resources are often embedded program costs rather than separate budget items.

“Especially with declining budgets, most CIOs do not believe they can be responsible for how agencies invest IT funds if they do not control the IT budget,” according to the latest annual survey of federal CIOs released last week by the IT organization TechAmerica and consulting firm Grant Thornton.

George DelPrete, a principal at Grant Thornton who worked on the survey, said CIOs “do a good job with understanding major investments and tracking those, but there are so many minor investments that are never reported to a component CIO or a [department] CIO, so they just don’t know.”

Tracking IT spending using budget planning documents, the Office of Management and Budget’s secure data collection website and other means makes the process difficult, DelPrete said.

The survey included responses from 41 CIOs and information resources management officials from several agencies, including the General Services Administration, Defense and Agriculture departments and a few congressional oversight committee staff. Of those, more than 60 percent of CIOs said they lack confidence in their ability to track and estimate IT spending.

CIOs ranked the budget and spending as their top concern, followed by attracting and retaining qualified personnel, cybersecurity, governance over the IT budget and acquisition. Seventy-one percent of CIOs said acquisition workforce challenges have worsened over the last two years, and acquisition professionals are challenged with buying IT services, as opposed to hardware and software.

The survey found that department CIOs control an average of 57 percent of their agencies’ IT budget, but that number varies. Some department CIOs control less than 1 percent of their agencies’ IT budget, and “understanding the true extent of IT spending is elusive,” the survey noted.

“You cannot be effective as a CIO until you have majority control” over the agency’s IT budget, said one unnamed CIO.

An August 2011 memo from then-Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew clarified CIO authorities, which include oversight of the entire agency IT portfolio and authority to evaluate performance of bureau CIOs. But 73 percent of those surveyed said the memo produced no change.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel told House lawmakers in January that existing laws provide agency CIOs with adequate authority to get their jobs done. But current and former CIOs have complained that their agencies’ structure and culture have constrained their ability to carry out these duties.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed legislation in March that would require each agency to have a single CIO with authority to determine how information technology funds are spent.

Most of the CIOs surveyed believe the bill would improve efficiency and accountability, but many powerful component CIOs oppose relinquishing their authorities.

DelPrete said it makes sense for bureau CIOs to control mission applications and systems while department CIOs manage common IT infrastructure and services like email. ■

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