Information technology modernization will be one of the three core pillars of the President’s Management Agenda scheduled for release next week, but real change could remain elusive unless IT chiefs finally gain authority within agencies.
According to Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, a core component of the PMA announced by President Donald Trump Feb. 12 in his FY19 budget proposal will be to empower leadership in IT, human capital and finance, as well as encouraging coordination across these positions.
“Modernization is the essential backbone of how government serves the public in ways that meet its needs, while keeping sensitive data and systems secure and private,” said Weichert. Efforts also support the other two pillars of the PMA: modernizing the government workforce to align with evolving missions and delivering transparency through data.
What Weichert called a “lack of integration across function” has already begun to be addressed by legislation such as the Modernizing Government Technology [MGT] Act and Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act [FITARA].
“We want to solve these issues holistically, build on past successes, and we believe that the MGT and the Technology Modernization Fund will be great stepping stones toward the future of really pulling all of these dimensions together, where they’re not siloed by function,” said Weichert.
According to David Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, Congress and the administration should empower IT leadership within agencies, which still lags despite imperatives in FITARA that place the chief information officer in charge of agency IT investments.
“CIO authorities still need to be strengthened, despite significant improvements from FITARA,” said Powner. “Your push to elevate these positions in agencies is still needed. Currently 13 of the 24 CIOs report to the deputy secretary or higher. OMB plays a critical role here, especially with the recent focus on agency reorganizations.”
Such reorganizations are easier said than done, however, as some agencies have multiple positions with the title CIO, and consolidating their influence has proven challenging.
According to Powner, forcing these agencies to transfer everything to a single CIO could either prove to be a needed “shock to the system” or cause increased chaos.
“We don’t even know the full totality of what we spend at these departments and agencies. So once we understand that, I do think the CIO should control that more. It’s OK, too, if there’s some business units that control it and they act in partnership,” said Powner.
And though the management plan for resolving many IT issues comes out next week, Powner warned against relying too heavily on plans to improve government operations.
“We’re really good at plans and guidance in this town, but we’re not always good at getting things done and implementing them completely, so let’s do things right with the MGT Act,” said Powner.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.