Bill Would Establish Federal CTO Post

CTO Will Ensure IT Networks Safety, Sponsor Says
Bill Would Establish Federal CTO Post
A bill to establish a cabinet-level chief technology officer in the White House has been introduced by a northern Virginia congressman.

In a letter to colleagues seeking cosponsors for the measure, Rep. Gerald Connolly, D.-Va., says the legislation follows through on a campaign pledge by President Obama to establish such a position to coordinate technology initiatives across the government.

The President, with his existing authority, could create a CTO post without legislation, but Connolly contends establishing the job by statute will give it more oomph. "These functions are too important to take place during a single administration," he wrote to his colleagues. "Making the chief technology officer a permanent position will give the CTO greater stature and empower him/her to accomplish the goals of the president."

Connolly has yet to hear from any colleagues because the letter was sent late last week as Congress recessed for the Easter-Passover holidays, says Connolly spokesman George Burke.

The bill primarily would have the chief technology officer be the government's top official in identifying and developing innovative ways technology can be used to make government operate more efficiently and be more responsive. The legislation also would have the CTO be a key player in safeguarding government IT. A provision of the measure provides for the CTO to establish cooperative public-private initiatives to acquire available marketplace technologies to be used to improve governmental operations, citizen services and the safety, security and privacy of information collected, maintained, processed and communicated by the federal government.

The CTO, under another provision of the measure, would advise the President on ways to mitigate and manage security and privacy risks. The CTO would be charged with assessing IT systems and applications on cybersecurity and personal privacy. "The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices," Connolly wrote.

The bill was referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Connolly is a member of that panel.

A report issued in January by the Congressional Research Service, which provides analysis on government policy to House and Senate members, pointed out some of the challenges a potential CTO could face, including negotiating areas of responsibilities within the White House, if that is where the office is eventually established, and with executive branch agencies that have overlapping missions.

"Some commentators have expressed concerns about the impact a CTO might have on existing offices and agencies with respect to the allocation and coordination of authorities and responsibilities," John Sargent Jr., a Congressional Research Service specialist in science and technology, wrote in an analysis. "Others commentators have asserted that a high-level CTO could serve as an advocate for technological innovation and foster increased knowledge sharing among federal agencies to more effectively implement information technology solutions to meet disparate mission requirements."

The Obama administration seems to be on hold in advancing its IT management and information security agenda, as the President awaits a report later this month on cybersecurity policies and processes being conducted by Melissa Hathaway, a director at the National and Homeland Security Councils. Obama last month named Vivek Kundra as the government's first chief information officer. However, despite the CIO title, Kundra's responsibilities parallel those of the administrator of e-government and IT, a title he also holds. And, like the two previous administrators, Mark Forman and Karen Evans, Kundra works in the White House Office of Management and Budget and reports to the OMB deputy director of management.

If established, the CTO would need to work with the federal CIO and a potential high-ranking director of cybersecurity, which is expected to be a White House post.

Connolly, a first-term House member, occupies the 11th Congressional District seat once held by Tom Davis, the Republican who authored the E-Government and Federal Information Security Management Acts and chaired the House panel now known as the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Connolly serves on the panel's Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization and Procurement, which along with the full committee, provides oversight on government IT matters. Davis also had chaired the subcommittee.

It's no coincidence that Connolly followed Davis to those panels; he requested the assignments. Northern Virginia is home to many federal employees and government offices as well as IT consulting and integration businesses that generate billions of dollars in revenue from work with the government.

That Connolly is a freshman might mean another, more senior lawmaker perhaps the chairman of the committee might claim title as the bill's sponsor. That wouldn't bother the congressman. "If the bill ends up with Chairman (Edolphus) Towns' name on the bill, so be it." Burke says. "The most important thing is to pass the bill. (He has) no concern about credit."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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