Interior gives CIO more authority over all IT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Interior Department’s first step to transforming how it buys and manages technology is mandating only one chief information officer and one deputy chief information officer throughout the entire agency.

Interior’s CIO has been seen for a long time as powerless because it lacked any actual authority over the bureaus. But Secretary Ken Salazar changed that dynamic by issuing a memo Dec. 14 that will give the CIO the ultimate influence over the department by controlling all infrastructure systems and IT procurement.

In fact, Salazar is abolishing the title of CIO within the bureaus and changing them to assistant director for information resources (ADIR).

“The most significant part of the memo is it establishes an enabling regulatory environment so that we can take care the employees of the Department of the Interior to allow them to focus on mission as well as to focus on their interaction with their constituencies throughout the public,” said Bernie Mazer, Interior CIO in an interview with Federal News Radio. “One of the things with the aggregation or consolidation of infrastructure and common compliance activities, it allows us to create a common operating picture. The Secretarial order is not taking a unilateral approach. We are looking at creating a closer relationship between department or enterprise endeavors as well as with the mission applications being delivered in the field.”


Along with the memo, Salazar announced a five-year IT modernization and consolidation program. Interior estimates the initiative will save an estimated $500 million by streamlining administration, cutting back on rented office space, reducing staff through attrition and other savings.

“We are looking inside our infrastructure business case to find areas where through consolidation we will realize a significant cost savings starting in fiscal 2016,” Mazer said. “We will be looking at that rather than having as is currently the case lots of these services being distributed across hundreds and hundreds of organizational units within the department is consolidating them into several different units to realize better cost savings as well as to create a more consistent, reliable customer experience.”

Salazar said DoI will “self-fund the consolidation by redirecting the captured savings from initial consolidation actions to later stages of the process, eliminating the need for new funding for the multi-year effort. Interior will achieve the savings by reducing its IT infrastructure and aligning its remaining resources to better serve its customer base.”

Vivek Kundra, the federal CIO, wrote in a blog post on, that Interior’s strategy is in line with the Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point plan to reform technology.

“[T]his Secretarial order removes the structural barriers that get in the way of consistent execution when it comes to managing achieving operational efficiency and managing large scale IT projects,” Kundra wrote.

The memo, however, is the lynchpin to this entire effort. One former government official familiar with Interior said giving the CIO more authority is long overdue.

The official, who requested anonymity because they didn’t get permission from their current company to talk about it, said the memo is a realization that Interior’s culture needs to change.

“The memo gives the CIO the ability to put the hammer down,” the former official said. “They now will have a centralized view of all the spending and can save money and improve things. You can’t continue to have those inefficiencies in a totally distributed, decentralized model. When no one was concerned about the money, you could overlook these things, but when you are looking at cutting costs, you can’t run eight of everything.”

Along with eliminating the title of CIO from the bureaus, Salazar also gave Mazer oversight over the IT budget.

“All IT procurement expenditures, over the micro-purchase level, must have the approval of the Office of the Chief Information Officer before funds are obligated via any approved method,” the memo states.

Mazer said the budget oversight will help Interior standardize how the agency buys and uses technology.

“We are establishing a common policy for how we do capital planning, how we do enterprise architecture, how we do procurements and how IT procurements fit into the context of our common operating picture on how IT is delivered throughout the department,” he said.

Interior is modeling the memo after both OMB’s October 2008 memo on IT management and governance, as well as the Homeland Security Department’s memo giving the CIO authority over all IT spending worth more than $1 million.

A former administration official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivities of the memo, said it’s important to get a hold of the acquisitions and to influence the budget process.

“The key is getting the internal processes and relationships set up to ensure the acquisitions guys help enforce the changes,” the former official said.

Mazer said by establishing these common policies the bureaus can focus on meeting mission needs. Mazer, who also was the CIO at the Fish and Wildlife Bureau before coming to headquarters, said too often bureaus focused too narrowly on how they bought services and failed to look more broadly across the department.

Mazer and Andrew Jackson, the deputy assistant secretary in Interior’s Office of Technology, Information and Business Services, have been meeting with Interior officials talking about reforming IT. This along with OMB’s TechStat sessions and IT dashboard are providing the momentum that has been missing for some time.

Mazer said there are three big challenges to implementing this policy:

  • Strategic communication detailing how Interior will deliver the services, how the agency will go about changing processes and how Mazer will include others to offer ideas for making this change happen smoothly.
  • Change management, which is not just about an incremental change, but the process of formally delivering services at the enterprise level.
  • Having a viable business model to let Interior have scalable technology systems to meet growing needs without costing a lot of money.

Mazer said Interior is taking several steps to overcome the challenges starting with creating a frequently asked questions page, developing websites on their Intranet discussing the technology changes coming, and bringing in mission and program people, finance, human resources and acquisition employees to discuss the implementation plan.

“Last week the Secretary sent out an all employee e-mail which was set up for transformation so we could hear about concerns or the hopes and aspirations of employees from all over Interior,” Mazer said. “We are looking at those things because they are cluing us in to the realities on the ground of what we need to be considerate of and providing us with some good ideas of what makes sense to provide from a departmental perspective.”

He added that to help with the change management, his office will develop a service catalog to let Interior bureaus buy specific technology from approved vendors. It could be mobile worker technology where the user can choose whether they buy a PDA or tablet, and whether they want a RSA token with it or whatever they need.

“Concurrent with that, we are looking at providing a total cost of operations model for these how these services will be delivered,” he said.

Mazer said among the first areas Interior will focus on for enterprise-wide services is a messaging application for the entire department. He also said data center consolidation will be among the first areas consolidated with more than 30 scheduled to shutdown in 2011.

“We are looking at how we arrive at Web hosting solutions, probably centering on a few points of presence from where we derive web hosting solutions,” he said. “We also are looking at where things can be delivered through the cloud in some of these really readily to use types of applications that don’t require a whole lot of sophistication.”

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