GAO: Federal Agencies Should Adopt Private Sector Practices to Overcome CIO Challenges


Over the years, Congress has enacted various laws to improve the government’s management of IT. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), which previously reported on the challenges faced by federal agency Chief Information Officers (CIOs), was asked to examine the degree of alignment between the responsibilities of federal agency CIOs, their counterparts in the private sector and the federal government as a whole. CIO located in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

A majority of the 71 private sector CIOs who responded to the GAO survey said they had responsibilities aligned with those of agency CIOs in 13 of 14 key areas of IT management. These areas include strategic planning, investment management and information security. One area of ​​responsibility (the area of ​​statistical policy) was flagged by more than half of the respondents as being outside their area of ​​responsibility. Additionally, surveyed CIOs also reported sharing responsibility with other executives in each area of ​​IT management.

The GAO found that private sector CIO respondents were highly educated and experienced, with the majority reporting previous IT-related experience, previous CIO experience, industry knowledge, and a college degree. . Notably, a majority of respondents said their degrees were not computer-related. Respondents indicated an average tenure in their current CIO role of around six years. Among respondents, CIOs with more authority over technology-related decisions tended to have a higher level of previous CIO experience, as well as the longest tenures.

The government watchdog also found that the responsibilities currently assigned to the federal CIO match those of agency CIOs in 10 of the 14 major IT management areas. The responsibilities of the federal CIO also align with those of the private sector survey respondents in each of the five areas of responsibility directly related to the roles of both. However, the GAO noted that the federal CIO position is not established by statute and that its primary legal authorities remain those established in 2002 for the OMB position from which the role was established. As such, his or her responsibilities are often more limited in the main management areas of the CIO than those of other types of CIOs. For example, the federal CIO is not responsible for ensuring that cybersecurity tasks are carried out. By formalizing the federal CIO position and establishing government-wide IT management responsibilities and authorities, GAO believes the position’s impact on federal IT can be more consistent over time and across jurisdictions. authorities.

The private sector and former agency CIOs participating in roundtables as part of the GAO review pointed to challenges faced by federal agency CIOs. Specifically, CIO panelists from the private sector said collaboration between the CIO and other senior executives is critical to achieving successful business results. Conversely, former federal DPI panelists reported difficulties in establishing meaningful collaboration with other managers. Panelists said federal agencies have an organizational culture where the CIO does not have sufficient visibility with executive decision makers and cannot regularly share knowledge and information with other executives. Additionally, panelists said that differing definitions of IT can result in technology funds being allocated to divisions outside of the CIO. Without shared responsibility with other senior executives, it can be difficult for agency CIOs to secure resources for IT initiatives that meet agency goals.

In 2011, GAO reported that CIOs were not consistently accountable for several major areas of IT and information management as defined by law or deemed essential to effective IT management. At the time, the GAO also noted that just over half of CIOs reported directly to the heads of their respective agencies.

Some of the challenges that federal agencies currently face in recruiting and retaining CIOs could be overcome by emulating private sector practices, especially in terms of communicating and collaborating with decision makers.

When recruiting, private sector panelists said their companies often look for managerial skills, such as project management skills, when hiring CIOs. In contrast, former agency CIO panelists said that technical skills are often a critical factor in selecting agency CIOs.

GAO recommends that Congress consider formalizing the federal CIO position and establishing responsibilities and authorities for government-wide IT management.

The watchdog also makes two recommendations to the OMB director to put more emphasis on collaboration between CIOs and other executives, and to take steps to ensure that managerial skills play an appropriate role in performance criteria. hiring of CIOs.

Read the full report on GAO


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