White House Official: Structure Dictates Behavior as CIO Authorities Expand

(Image: Government Matters)

Recent government alignment between Congress and President Trump to promote the authorities of agency chief information officers is necessary to respond to increasingly heavy demands on the CIO position, said Matt Lira, special assistant to the President for innovation, policy, and initiatives at the White House Office of American Innovation (OAI).

Lira spoke Thursday at IBM’s Think Gov event in Washington about how the president’s IT Executive Order (EO) gives firm backing to legislation like the Federal IT Acquisition and Reform Act (FITARA) that aims to further empower the position of Federal agency CIO.

“The simple fact that there is a presidential-level policy action, an executive order, saying that this is a priority for government, is a significant event,” Lira said.

He said government’s push on the issue has been prompted by changes in accountability for the CIO position. If CIOs are held accountable for technology investments–both successes and failures–they need to have authority in equal measure.

“Structure dictates behavior, and so by structuring the CIO position as the IT general advisor to agency heads, giving them the authority to match the accountability they’ve increasingly encountered over the past couple years, that will position us to be successful,” he said.

Lira said the EO is stating that policy in no uncertain terms.

“The EO is not an amorphous document,” he said. “It lays out in highly-specific terms the authorities and responsibilities CIOs should have in their organizations. At the same time, we can view that as an elevation of the responsibilities that CIOs have, so it isn’t as though the CIO will play the same role it has historically. Hopefully the position itself will evolve to match the responsibilities it now has according to the EO.”

Those expanding responsibilities, Lira said, would include shepherding the working capital funds authorized by the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act and tracked in FITARA. Lira said he was “thrilled” with Wednesday’s FITARA hearing by two House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees, saying that the necessary changes stressed in the hearing–CIO empowerment among them–are “tangible strategic objectives” seeing broad approval across the IT landscape in government and beyond.

“The alignment between congressional oversight, statutory law, executive order, presidential policy action, and essentially the sort of broad ecosystem outside of the government in the space is amazing,” Lira said.

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