GAO recommends empowering federal CIOs

Nearly 50 percent of federal CIOs have another official agency job function in addition to being chief information officer. That's just one of the professional distractions they face and, although the law calls for it, many CIOs are not responsible for all the privacy and security tasks that perhaps they should be.

That’s according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which wrote, ina report to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), that “federal law provides CIOs with adequate authority to manage IT for their agencies; however, some limitations exist that impede their ability to exercise this authority.”

For starters, there's the reality of CIOs also serving in other roles. The GAO found, in fact, that 14 of 30 surveyed CIOs held another job title – including ones as demanding as chief acquisition officer or chief human capital officer. One CIO even had five titles.

[See also: CIO confidence plunges, says CHIME.]

“We and members of Congress have previously questioned whether split duties allow a CIO to deal effectively with an agency’s IT challenges,” according to the GAO. “Holding other positions is contrary to the federal law requiring that IT and information management be the CIOs primary function and distracts from the responsibility to ensure that agencies carry out their IT and information management in an efficient, effective, and economical manner.”

It’s the information management side that suffers most. CIOs typically are responsible for seven key IT management areas – those being enterprise architecture, information security, IT strategic planning, e-government initiatives, IT workforce planning, as well as systems acquisitions, development and integration.

“By contrast, CIOs are less frequently responsible for information management duties such as records management and privacy requirements, which they commonly share with other offices or organizations within the agency,” GAO explained. “In this regard, CIOs report spending more than two-thirds of their time on IT management responsibilities, and less than one-third of their time on information management responsibilities.”

[See also: GAO finds fault with VA healthcare IT system.]

GAO identifies the six components of information management as information collection paperwork reduction, records management, privacy, information dissemination, information disclosure, and statistical policy and coordination.

“Even those CIOs who indicated they had been assigned responsibility for these six information management areas reported they assigned a higher priority to their IT management responsibilities,” GAO found.

All of these factors contribute to an average two-year tenure for federal CIOs, GAO noted.