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Will government ‘IT special forces’ put CIO role in jeopardy?

Kenneth Corbin | June 22, 2016
As new units of IT experts take shape across departments and agencies to advance high-priority projects, lawmakers and a government watchdog warn that CIO authorities must be preserved.

"In the private sector, it's almost inconceivable to me that anyone could hire a private IT team and come in and do some work in the corporation without the CIO's knowledge and approval," Connolly said. "That would be tantamount to saying you might as well move on because we don't have any confidence in you."

Mikey Dickerson, administrator of the USDS, stressed that his organization is actually geared toward breaking down the organizational barriers that have long been cited as a hindrance to large-scale IT reforms.

"I think the most valuable role that the USDS brings into the government is the ability to coordinate and work across all the organizational boundaries to solve what are often very complicated problems with a lot of stakeholders that involve a lot of parts of the agency," Dickerson said. "The CIO is always part of the set of agency leadership that we talk to before we embark on or go into a project and decide how to execute it."

Likewise, Phaedra Chrousos, commissioner of the GSA's Technology Transformation Service, argued that 18F is looking to operate like a startup within the government, explaining that its role is to rotate in experts from the private sector to help in areas like consulting with an agency CIO, advising on procurement and demonstrating proof-of-concept work in areas like agile software or application development.

"I believe that we act as an ecosystem where talented people from the private sector can come in and learn how to adapt their practices to government and then show government how to do that,"Chrousos said. "These are the kinds of things that we offer, and I believe that our vantage point from bringing in private-sector individuals into the government and explaining to them how the government works and then adapting those technologies out is where we play in this space."

Powner, whose role at GAO demands that he turn a critical eye toward government IT initiatives, was careful to remind lawmakers that he sees considerable potential in the Digital Service model for shepherding along high-priority IT projects, so long as the agency CIO isn't marginalized in the process.

"We actually think that if Digital Services teams at the agencies coordinate with the CIOs, they're going to be welcomed more into those agencies to work on the big problems," he said. "We just need to tighten it up a little more."


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