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Washington debates need for technology policy chief

A House subcommittee hears testimony on two legislative proposals that call for a government-wide chief information officer to manage information technology policies.

Following reports that federal Web sites and computer systems are failing to ensure adequate privacy and security, there is talk that the government might need a chief information officer to coordinate the United States' technology and computer security policies.

The House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology today heard testimony on two legislative proposals in the House of Representatives that call for a government-wide chief information officer (CIO) to manage information technology policies.


Meta Group says a federal chief information officer independent of the Office of Management and Budget and possibly at the Cabinet level could set overall government policy for information use, security and other issues.

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Government officials, private business leaders and academics commented on the proposals, one of which was introduced by Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, and the other by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.

Yesterday, two reports released by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, strongly suggested that the federal government has not gone far enough to protect information submitted to the Web sites of its various agencies or in defending information systems from predators.

In recent years, government officials and consumer groups have been demanding that congressional members introduce legislation that will require companies and government agencies to better protect private information.

Supporters of appointing a CIO to centrally administer technology and security strategies for the federal government insist such a move will ensure that private citizens' information within government computer systems is protected.

"I believe that many government programs that share common elements or information could be vastly improved with stronger authority to enforce interagency and intergovernmental cooperation," said Jim Flyzik, chief information officer at the Department of the Treasury. "The oversight could continue to be in the form of the Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management, or could be in another option like a new federal CIO."

Although supporters say the proposals are gaining bipartisan support in Congress, the White House has said it is against making a new position in government to coordinate technology and computer issues.

"Both bills...would establish federal CIO offices within the Executive Office of the President--but outside of OMB," said Sally Katzen, deputy director for management at OMB, who represented the White House at the hearing. "As I have said, we believe that separating oversight of IT management from OMB's management and budgeting authority will not achieve integrated and coordinated results, but rather will have negative effects on...IT, budgeting for IT and programs enabled by IT."

Subcommittee staff members said debate is expected to continue on the bills as the House looks at ways to combine the two bills into one and then bring it to the House floor for a vote sometime early next year.