One way to keep government stocked with qualified CIOs: Groom them at OMB first

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A group including lawmakers and former government chief information officers said the overall federal CIO — the one stationed in the White House Office of Management and Budget — could be the pivot point for attracting talented people to fill CIO positions at other agencies.

The idea came from a forum, convened in September 2016 by the Government Accountability Office, that was intended to generate ideas that could solve well-known federal IT problems — such as recruiting a talented IT workforce.  A report published Tuesday from the conversation offers some potential approaches for tackling that problem — one of which a GAO official said was really new and different.

A future federal CIO, participants in the forum said, could eventually fill agency CIO roles with people who work first in advisory roles at OMB. The program would “create a pool of highly skilled CIOs by establishing three to five CIO advisory positions working with the Federal CIO at OMB.”

“These advisors would work initially at OMB and then be available when an agency CIO position is vacant,” the report says, adding, “The participants felt that such a strategy would be beneficial because these CIOs would already be known and trusted in OMB.”

Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at GAO, told FedScoop the idea behind the idea is that the candidates “would kind of work there and be vetted by the Executive Office of the President, the White House, and kind of understand more about the macro picture of federal IT, and then be placed in a department or agency.”

“That’s a much different way [from] how it currently works today,” Powner said to FedScoop. “Now clearly there would be some challenges, because that’s not currently how departments go about hiring, but it’s an interesting concept, and it’s a way that actually could attract more qualified people, knowing that hey, I’m going to go work, be associated with the White House for a short period of time, and then placed in a department where there’s a real need.”

How government looks at its IT innovators

The forum participants also discussed the need to better integrate private sector innovation groups into the federal workforce.

“They stated that the U.S. Digital Service and 18F teams are not well integrated with federal IT/CIO organizations, which had created a ‘we versus them’ environment,” the GAO said. “The participants noted the highly qualified staff at U.S. Digital Service and 18F and stated that these centralized pools of private sector talent need to be better integrated with the federal IT workforce.”

Powner said the discussion was not about killing the two groups, or criticizing them, but more about “let’s look at the positives there and how do we build off of that, integrate them in.”

“We had some good folks that came into the government through those two organizations, and there was some good work that was done, and the question becomes you know, how do you better integrate them in?” Powner said.

Participants also discussed better integrating fed IT workers with contractors.

“We really need to look at it as the mix between contractors and federal employees, and what’s the right mix,” Powner said. “So that kind of goes hand-in-hand a little bit with that private sector group coming in and trying to integrate them in a little more strongly.”

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Dave Powner, Federal CIO, FITARA, GAO, Rep. Gerry Connolly, Rep. Will Hurd