Should the U.S. federal government have a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and/or a Chief Technology Officer?
“The chief information officer (CIO) is a job title for the board level head of information technology within an organization. The CIO typically reports to the chief executive officer.”
“A chief technology officer (CTO) is an executive position whose holder is focused on scientific and technical issues within an organization.”
“In some companies, the CTO is just like a CIO. In still others, the CIO reports to the CTO. And there are also CTOs who work in IT departments and report to the CIO. In such a situation where CTO reports to the CIO, the CTO often handles the most technical details of the IT products and their implementation. Despite the diversity of approaches to the CTO role, this IT department executive is increasingly becoming the organization’s senior technologist, responsible for overseeing current technology assets, and more important, for developing a technology vision for the business.” (Wikipedia)
For the purpose of this blog, I will use the terms synonymously.
In the federal government today, we do not actually have a federal CIO or CTO. The closest thing we do have to it is the Administrator for the Office of E-Government and Information Technology in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Within that office, we also have a chief architect.
MIT Technology Review, September/October 2008 has an interview by Kate Greene with Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus, founding chair of Mozilla, and a board member of Linden Research who advocates for a federal CTO.
Here’s why Kapor thinks we need a federal CTO:
“The government needs cohesive technology practices and policies…tech is intertwined with virtually everything. You can’t talk about homeland security or education or energy without it being in large part a conversation about technology. The president will be well served if policy making is done in a more technologically sophisticated way.”
What are some policies the federal CTO would champion?
- Ubiquitous and affordable broadband deployment
- “Tech policies that stimulate innovation in the economy are very important, because innovation is the engine of growth.”
- “Net neutrality is also a huge issue in ensuring the Internet isn’t controlled by the people who own the wires, because that us just going to impede innovation.”
While I believe that this is a good start, there are so many other areas that could benefit, such as—
- Information sharing and data quality
- Interoperability and component reuse
- Standardization and simplification of our infrastructure
- Beefing up our IT security
- linking resources to results (i.e. driving performance outcomes and having our business and mission drive technology rather than doing technology for technology’s sake)
- And of course, overall enterprise architecture planning and IT governance.
Overall, Kapor says “The advantage of a CTO is that there can be coordination. There’s a ton of work that goes on within different agencies: there needs to be someone to identify the best ways of doing things and some common practices.”
In the federal government, we do have the federal CIO Council to help coordinate and identify best practices, but the role that Kapor envisions is more of a visionary, leadership role that will truly drive the technology of our government and “lead by influence and not by command.”
As we enter the last few months before the presidential election of 2008, perhaps it is a good time to think not only about the next Commander In Chief, but also about the leadership role(s) of tomorrow—such as a federal CIO/CTO—that will be necessary for maintaining and solidifying our nation’s technological superiority for now and the future.