How federal CIOs will navigate the presidential transition

As the federal IT community braces for new administration, experts see new IT initiatives on hold, but have hopes for acquisition reform and modernization efforts.

By Kenneth Corbin
Nov. 8, 2016

"I think that's intended to be his sort of parting gift to whatever the new administration is," says Rick Holgate, the former CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who is now a research director focusing on the federal government at Gartner, which is helping Scott's office prepare the report card. Holgate anticipates that the report will be completed by year end.

Scott has generally been well regarded by industry groups working with the government. MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on government IT, has started a petition campaign calling for Scott to stay on as the federal CIO into the next administration. Holgate does not expect that effort to succeed. "Unless he's talked into it, Tony's probably likely to step aside in the not-too-distant future," he says.

But whether Scott stays on or not, the CIOs who do continue into the new administration can expect to spend a considerable amount of time educating the new leadership about the operations of the agency.

"For them to really understand how it works and how you get things done, that's a long process," Spires says. "That lack of continuity really makes it very difficult for CIOs and IT organization in general to carry out longer term IT modernization initiatives."

New administration could be an opportunity for CIO role

Spires is hopeful that, assuming Scott steps down, his successor and the officials who occupy senior spots at the Office of Management and Budget continue to press agencies on implementing the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, a sweeping overhaul of government technology operations that included provisions aimed at enhancing the role of the agency CIO.

The presidential transition presents a unique opportunity on that front, according to Holgate, who sees the chance for CIOs to introduce themselves to the incoming agency leadership and advocate for "the CIO being viewed as a support function or an administrative function to being viewed more strategically as aligned with and in support of the organization mission."

"From a CIO perspective, it also opens opportunities for CIOs to essentially restart their relationships with the organization leadership," he says.

As to what a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump administration might look like from federal CIOs perspective, much remains unclear. Neither campaign responded to requests for comment for this story, and government IT has not been the headline from either candidate's stump speech.

What a Clinton administration could mean

But observers look to the rather lengthy ("exhaustive," one source described it) technology and innovation agenda that the Clinton campaign has released as an indicator of where her administration would set its priorities. In many areas such as promoting broadband development and defending network neutrality, a Clinton tech-policy agenda looks like it would pick up where the Obama regime will leave off.

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