Bush expected to rattle federal IT

Players in new administration are fond of centralization, outsourcing, e-government

As if it were a hostile takeover, the inauguration of a new president brings federal CIOs a lot of uncertainties about their work and jobs. But while most federal IT managers have some civil service job protections, they will want to do more than merely survive in their positions - they hope for more responsibility in the new administration.

"It all comes down to this: Does your new boss like you or not?" said Roger Baker, CIO at the U.S. Department of Commerce, who worked in the private sector before taking the federal job two years ago. His new boss will be Donald Evans, the Commerce secretary-designate.

"You've got to make sure you're on his team, that he understands what you are all about and that you can add value to the organization," said Baker. "In the end, he's got to decide that you're the person he wants in the job, not that he inherited you."

Federal CIOs say they expect President George W. Bush to bring significant changes to the $40 billion federal IT operation, including expanded online government initiatives, a move toward centralized control of IT management through a federal CIO, and cross-agency initiatives - the sharing of IT resources affecting everything from application development to help desk operations.

"Hopefully, it's going to be a more structured, more connected organization," said George Molaski, CIO at the Department of Transportation.

Bush, the former governor of Texas, is also bringing in a team that has advocated privatizing state services and using e-government to improve service and shrink staffs.


Bipartisan Outsourcing?

The federal government spent $2.5B last year on IT outsourcing out of a total federal IT budget of nearly $40B. Federal IT outsourcing is expected to grow at 7.3% annually to $3.6B by 2005. That estimate was made by market research firm Input before Bush’s election, but the firm is sticking with it because of the generally bipartisan support for contracting IT services, said Kevin Plexico, a vice president at Chantilly, Va.-based Input.

In Texas, IT outsourcing is well above the average for all states. In fiscal 2000, outsourcing expenditures represented 29% of the state's total IT budget, compared with a nationwide average of about 18%, according to a report last year by the Texas Department of Information Resources.

Moreover, a top IT adviser to Bush is former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican who was a leader in privatizing many IT services in that city and who has won national awards for delivering e-government services.

Last month, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander released a study saying that e-government initiatives could lead to savings of $1.2 billion in two years. The plan would discontinue requirements for face-to-face interviews to determine Medicaid eligibility and use call centers and Internet applications to improve the enrollment process.

Darrell West, director of the Center for Public Policy at Brown University, said he believes Bush will be a strong proponent of e-government services. "It is an area that offers potential to enhance service delivery at lower cost, so it fits perfectly into his political agenda," West said.

Joseph Leo, CIO at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a 34-year federal employee who plans to leave his post soon, said federal CIOs haven't had the advantages that private-sector CIOs enjoy because many senior federal officials still don't recognize the importance of IT in service delivery. CIOs have been hurt by a lack of budget authority, he said, adding that a federal CIO can act as an "honest broker," raising the profile of IT issues in the federal government.

"There is an acknowledgment and recognition that the information technology component is essential for the company's well-being and, indeed, success. In the public sector, that is not yet recognized," said Leo.

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Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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