May 17 2007

Setting Priorities During Bush II

Photo: Steve Barrett

Another term in office, without the challenge of re-election, provides President Bush the opportunity for setting an aggressive and legacy-establishing agenda. What will his information technology program and management agenda priorities be during the next four years?

Each fiscal year brings new priorities and challenges. Stepping back to look at past accomplishments and coming areas of emphasis is a useful and interesting exercise for the IT community. But the transition to a new administration, even when the sitting president is re-elected and the control of Congress remains unchanged, makes such a review much more insightful.

Each year, the Information Technology Association of America conducts just such a review by surveying the government's senior IT chiefs. I led a task force for the most recent ITAA survey. This month's column incorporates the findings of that survey, which the association detailed in a February report, Issues in Leadership—ITAA's 15th Annual Survey of Federal Chief Information Officers.

What's Holding CIOs Back?
Shortage of time for strategic planning
Conflicting priorities among programs
Lack of crucial skills by employees
Inadequate budgets
Difficulty proving the value of IT
IT efforts misaligned with agency goals

The survey focuses on identifying and analyzing issues of significant continuing importance to agency leaders and CIOs. The survey is conducted in two parts. First, ITAA member teams hold face-to-face meetings with CIOs and other federal IT officials. Second, each official interviewed completes a questionnaire detailing his or her position, reporting relationships, tenure, spending priorities, barriers to progress and top objectives.

Early Progress

Based on the interviews, ITAA identified the top accomplishments by CIOs and their organizations during Bush's first term. The progress reported mapped well to the Office of Management and Budget's priorities over this period.

The federal execs consistently cited the following areas as significant accomplishments:

  • Improved IT management. This includes a broad set of achievements, such as strategy and planning, capital planning processes and enterprise architectures. CIOs reported implementing and maturing capabilities in most IT management areas.
  • Improved electronic government. There were two types of progress. First, most believe the Quicksilver e-government initiatives improved or established foundations for future improvement in e-government for each effort's respective constituencies. A number of CIOs also believe the process of working together across departments, agencies and, in some cases, levels of government had resulted in a new model of collaboration that was an achievement in itself.
  • Improved IT security. Almost all CIOs reported making significant organizational and personal investments in this area and in delivering an improved IT security environment. Some of the progress was scorecard-related—audits, assessments, plans, training and so forth. A number of CIOs also reported putting in place security measures to protect networks and applications.
  • IT consolidation. ITAA found significant progress being reported in merging infrastructures. CIOs were able to get consolidation programs off the ground with strong support from OMB. These efforts also support the strategies for addressing the challenges of IT security and cost savings.

CIOs also reported progress on:

  • development of networks for state and federal information exchange;
  • modernization for both mission and financial applications;
  • technology implementations, including Voice over Internet Protocol, public-key infrastructure, Web portal and eXtensible Markup Language tools;
  • service delivery improvements, including managed services.

Priorities Moving Forward

Where's the Most Bang for the Buck?
Integrating systems and processes
Aligning IT and agency goals
Improving project management
Implementing security and privacy measures
Lowering costs
Enhancing e-government

Key to the interviews was identifying issues and priorities faced by CIOs as the second term of the Bush administration began. Again, the ITAA survey team noted significant consistency among the top concerns and a tie-in to OMB objectives.

The top priorities for the coming years generally are follow-on steps to priorities identified over the past few years.

The ITAA team found that, although there has been progress on these efforts, more work remains to be done on:

  • IT security. Although some program building still is required, CIOs say their security focus is turning to risk management, implementing intrusion detection systems and expanding intrusion prevention. The team also found some organizations intend to improve data and application security through implementing PKIs and other sophisticated mechanisms.
  • Enterprise standardization and consolidation. CIOs report making progress over the past few years, but consolidation remains a high priority as agencies complete and implement enterprise architectures. ITAA learned that efforts are moving from the IT infrastructures to the underlying applications—integration at the app layer is a much more challenging undertaking.
  • Human capital transformation. IT chiefs assert that competent IT workers remain in short supply, both in the government and in segments of the contractor workforce. The government continues to create programs to attract, develop and retain qualified personnel. Further, some CIOs are shaping their organizational and outsourcing strategies, at least in part, on whether they expect to be able to hire adequate staff or will need to fill skill gaps with contract employees.
  • Project management. Over the last several budget cycles, OMB has increased its interest in project management and project-monitoring tools. This has led CIOs to try techniques such as earned-value management and to create programs designed to develop and retain qualified—sometimes even certified—project managers.
  • IT governance. Survey respondents report significant progress in IT management during the past four years. Governing the investment in and use of IT across enterprises, a component of IT management, continues to be a high priority. One of the most pressing challenges remains incorporating enterprise architectures into the basic IT management at agencies.

Other issues CIOs say they'll work on during the president's second term include:

  • setting data strategies;
  • integrating performance measures into IT management processes;
  • outsourcing and contracting;
  • implementing e-government initiatives;
  • aligning technology and business requirements.

With an eye to these issues, the government's IT managers can continue to adjust their systems strategies and make sure their agencies' efforts mesh with the broader management initiatives of the White House.

To read the report online, go to the ITAA Web site at or visit the site of the report's sponsor, Grant Thornton of Chicago, at