White House moves to bolster chief information officers at federal agencies

White House moves to bolster chief information officers at federal agencies
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE signed a new executive order on Tuesday that gives chief information officers (CIOs) in the federal government more power, a move the White House says will make them more efficient and reduce wasteful spending.

“The true answer to modernizing government technology is to build the capacity to conduct change on an ongoing basis. By ensuring that agency CIOs are empowered, today’s action by President Trump is a critical step forward in building that change management capacity,” said senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump unleashed: President moves with a free hand post-impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Trump's former personal assistant to oversee White House personnel office MORE, one of the White House officials involved in the project, along with tech-focused advisers such as Chris Liddell and Matt Lira.

The new changes will require CIOs to report directly to the heads of federal agencies that they work with. Currently, only half directly work with their agency head, according to a White House fact sheet.

Many CIOs also have a limited ability to control information technology (IT) spending with their agencies, the White House said. The new changes in the executive order will give them more control over such budgets. They’ll also have more power in hiring IT professionals to bolster tech departments within their agencies.

Senior White House officials criticized the current system in a press call with reporters, saying that past administrations had made some headway in the area but that they believe the current federal IT systems need a complete overhaul, including the flexibility CIOs are given.

Officials critiqued the organizational structure of federal IT as “10 to 20 years out of date” on the press call and said the executive order is one of the initial steps to correct lagging IT practices.

“This is not something that was going to be solved in six months,” one senior official said. “Think of this as a foundational step in a multiyear journey.”

IT spending accounts for $90 billion of federal government spending each year. White House officials said this spending is often fragmented and inefficient because of the current lack of power that CIOs have. They believe that the changes will help reduce wasteful spending.

The technology industry voiced its support for the new executive order on Tuesday.

“ITI welcomes the administration’s continued focused on IT modernization,” said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for the public sector at the Information Technology Industry Council, which lobbies for companies like Google, Facebook and Apple.

“The executive order from the Trump Administration announced today puts CIOs in a position to effectively drive this IT modernization across the federal government,” he added.