A true “duh, why didn’t I think of that before” move occurred this week. Without the requirement of any enabling legislation, a few of the Obama administration tech whiz kids got together to form a council of federal CTOS - chief technology officers. I mention enabling legislation because the pattern for the CTO Council, the CIO Council, is required by the mid-’90s Clinger Cohen Act that established the CIO position in departments. Now all the major bureaus and independent agencies have them.
The CTO Council idea, in retrospect, makes logical sense. If you look carefully, the Obama administration strategy has been to re-orient the CIO position close to what was envisioned under Clinger-Cohen. In that sense, it’s not really a technology position, but a management one. The Obama Office of Management And Budget has pushed for CIOs to have budgetary authority and portfolio management. The 25-point IT management improvement plan is at least as much a management document than a technology prescription.
More precisely, it looks like the CIO Council, judging by its technology portfolio, is more concerned with policy issues and technology where it cuts across all agencies. Under the “what we’re working on” tab at its web site, the CIO Council lists IT reform, data center consolidation, cloud computing, transparent government, cybersecurity and IT workforce.
That leaves applications to CTOs. CTOs have established a couple of important online initiatives that are application-like, such as the Blue Button initiative. VA CTO Peter Levin called out this initiative during the AFCEA event where he described the new council.
Todd Park just became the chief technology officer for the administration, a job that resides in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. But, according to news reports of the council formation, he will not chair it. Instead it will be chaired by direct White House staff. Specifically, Jonathan McBride, White House deputy director for presidential personnel. He was behind the so-called Technology Cohort, a sort of multiple-agency brain trust also lead by the presidential personnel office.
This cloud of OSTP, appointee techies throughout the agency, and the White House has been behind the stream of challenge grants and prizes that use social media platforms to solicit ideas. So the new council’s focus is likely to be antipodal to the governmentwide issues of the CIO Council by concentrating on highly focused ideas for agency-specific problems. Levin said as much, quoted in Federal Times, referring to “very specific, nitty-gritty technology issues.”
A small but important piece of news is that the CTO council, like the CIO, Chief Human Capital Officers, and Chief Financial Officers Councils, will include both career and appointed CTOs.
With the CIO Council concentrating on its list, and the CTOs assigned to the “nitty gritty,” where does that leave enterprise applications and development projects subject to the TechStat reviews? My guess is those will be supervised by both CTOs and CIOs, with the weight going to CIOs. I say that because the person doing the most talking and reminding about TechStat is the Federal CIO, Steven VanRoekel. But program managers whose missions live and die by these projects will also have to keep a sharp eye out. The danger here is parallel to the adage about supervising children at a swimming pool: when everyone is watching, no one is watching.
Until now, CIOs and CTOs have existed as sort of blurry adjuncts to one another. Now the roles are more clearly delineated. Their challenge will be making sure nothing is lost in between.