IT & Networks

CIOs have to be more than IT experts, says federal tech lead

It is no longer enough for government chief information officers to only be good at technology, they must also have strong management and leadership chops, according to federal CIO Suzette Kent.

“I am not here for my great coding skills and neither are many of our CIOs,” Kent said, speaking at a Foreign Affairs Live event May 3, 2018.

“CIOs are expected to not only have technology skills, but they have to be leaders, and they have to have a broad set of management capabilities. In the private sector, the role of the CIO has already evolved. CIOs are part of the leadership team.”

According to Kent, the administration, legislators and American public expect the government to be able to incorporate technology into its services in the same ways the private sector already uses it.

“It should be expected, as all of these factors change, there is a change in the role of the CIO, the [chief information security officer] and their entire technology teams. What we expect them to be able to do has to be a critical part of that overall transformation,” Kent said.

According to Kent, for the CIO to be truly effective agencies need to make sure that the position has the authority, accountability and budget to accomplish the kinds of sweeping changes that government needs.

“We have to close the gap between the people who are setting the vision and the people who have to deliver on that vision,” Kent said, adding that CIOs need to be provided a “seat at the table.”

CIO authority has been a central aspect of IT change at agencies for the past few years, with the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard measuring the CIO’s ability to report to senior agency leadership as a key metric for agency IT success.

Many agencies score well in CIO authorities, though NASA, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense all received F’s in that category on the most recent scorecard.

Kent also noted that government spending on technology has been “largely flat” for the past four years, which makes it difficult to phase out old systems and phase in the new.

Legislation like the Modernizing Government Technology [MGT] Act has sought to give agencies the budget kick they need, with working capital funds within agencies giving CIOs the ability to save money over multiple fiscal years and a governmentwide technology modernization fund acting as a loan service for innovative IT projects. But the TMF’s $100 million in appropriations can only cover so many projects.

“Creativity is a start, and there are some agencies that have been incredibly successful at that, and there are examples, but it’s not enough,” Kent said, adding that there will be a need for a greater IT budget to get some projects done.

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