by Kim Nelson & Allan Holmes

What It’s Like To….Testify Before Congress

Dec 15, 20042 mins
IT Leadership

CIO for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kim Nelson informs legislators about important environmental issues by testifying before Congress.

Some people may dread testifying before Congress, but I love it. It’s an incredible opportunity to get your story out.

Appearing before a committee doesn’t look or feel like it seems on television. People are coming and going; there’s rarely a full committee. Sometimes there are just one or two committee members. The setting is not as intimidating as one might think. I try to imagine that we’re all sitting and talking around the dinner table.

EPA CIO Kim Nelson has grown used to appearing before Congress.

Still, I don’t mind being a bit controversial. For example, I was testifying last July on enterprise architectures [EA] in my capacity as chair of the federal CIO Council’s Enterprise Architecture Committee. Agencies were being hammered pretty hard as a result of a Government Accountability Office audit that showed most agencies were still at Level 1, which means they hadn’t developed an EA plan or their plans did not reflect the value an EA brought to the agency. Congress was asking why agencies had spent millions and still had not progressed beyond that. I pointed out that the methodology GAO used was a bit flawed. It was awkward saying that with a GAO representative sitting right next to me, but if someone comes in and says you accomplished 38 out of 40 of the things you need to accomplish, you’d think you’d get an A. But using GAO’s methodology, you flunk. That painted an unfair picture.

But we had a great outcome. I got a follow-up e-mail from GAO asking if I could come speak to the new GAO auditors about EA and what EPA has accomplished. Do you realize how unusual it is for GAO to invite you to come speak to them? It hardly ever happens.

As a public manager, if I can provide a nugget of information that will help those involved in formulating legislation understand a topic a little better, I’ve done my job.


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Preparation is very important. Nerves come from not having command of the topic. You have to know who’s on the committee and what they want to know about. If you do that, you’ll do fine.

—As told to Allan Holmes