by Allan Holmes

The Clinger-Cohen Act

May 15, 20062 mins

What It Is

Congress passed the Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996 to instill private-sector IT management best practices in federal agencies. One of the most important provisions of the law requires the largest agencies to create a CIO position. The CIO was envisioned to be a top-level executive who would provide strategic insight into how IT could help mold the business processes used to deliver public services. The law also did away with much of the bureaucratic red tape that agencies were required to follow to purchase IT equipment and services, which prolonged many procurements by years. The Clinger-Cohen Act’s primary provisions are:

¿ Create a CIO position that reports to the head of the agency.

¿ Develop an IT capital planning and investment process.

¿ Set performance goals and standards for IT systems.

¿ Create an enterprise architecture.

¿ Evaluate the skills of the agency’s IT staff and identify skill gaps.

¿ Evaluate the IT skills of the agency’s executives.

¿ Develop hiring and training plans for the agency’s workforce to improve IT management.

Why It Failed

¿ Most federal CIOs do not report to the head of an agency and few have full authority over the agency’s IT budget.

¿ Capital planning and investment reviews fail because reports are seen as paperwork exercises, and the Office of Management and Budget does not measure results or work with agencies to fix specific weaknesses in the most high-risk IT projects.

¿ Few agencies measure whether performance goals and standards have been met and are given little guidance on how to do so.

¿ Most agency architectures are too technical and detailed (down to the desktop) and do not serve as a blueprint of an agency’s business processes, including where systems need to be interoperable and the best way to apply technology.

¿ Lack of project management skills is still cited as one of the primary causes of project failures.

¿ Agency leaders still lack knowledge of IT’s role.