Although the Social Security Administration has taken significant steps to improve IT acquisitions, the agency has still not acted to fully empower its chief information officer, according to a Sept. 27 Government Accountability Office report.

“While SSA has made noteworthy progress to address its management of IT, more work is needed to fully address the role of its CIO in its policies,” said Carol Harris, director of IT management issues at GAO, at a Sept. 27 hearing on the report.

“Various laws and related guidance assign IT management responsibilities to CIOs in six key areas, and in August 2018 we reported that, of the six areas, SSA’s policies only fully address one.”

Such guidance stipulates that the CIOs at each agency must have authority in IT leadership and accountability, strategic planning, workforce, budgeting, investment management and information security.

SSA only fully addressed the leadership requirement, which calls for the CIO to report directly to agency leadership.

And while budgeting and information security were substantially addressed, according to the report, strategic planning and investment management were only somewhat addressed, while authority over the IT workforce was not addressed at all.

The report recommended that SSA take action on GAO’s past recommendation that the agency update its policies to better empower the CIO.

According to Harris, SSA currently struggles with the fact that its average CIO tenure is only about 1.8 years, which leaves little time to effect real IT change and improvements.

Harris added that a CIO needs approximately three to five years to be truly effective, and five to seven years to implement major changes.

“If SSA fully implements our recommendation, it will be better positioned to attract and retain high-quality CIOs when there is a leadership vacancy, while also maintaining continuity of IT operations when leadership changes occur,” said Harris.

SSA said that it planned to address the CIO policy weakness by the end of September 2018.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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