Guess What Government CIOs Fear Most

New survey reveals tight budgets and HR issues give way to concerns about digital attack.

Technology think-tank TechAmerica recently surveyed 40 federal IT leaders as part of the group’s annual report on the attitudes of those at the very top of America’s digital infrastructure. Those polled include the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) of federal agencies, their deputies, various Chief Technology Officers and IT division heads, and members of congressional committees and oversight boards with authority over federal technology assets. This is the 22nd year TechAmerica has conducted the survey, and the main concerns of survey respondents are beginning to change.

Where budgets and personnel have traditionally been the biggest challenges faced by IT leaders on a daily basis, the rising specter of cyber attack is now the number one concern of those interviewed.

Perhaps more surprising is the revelation that the most significant cybersecurity breaches handled by CIOs and their associates continue to come from within. Despite this fact, the majority of efforts and resources dedicated to preventing cyber attacks are designed to protect against external threats. This discrepancy is just one reason why survey respondents expressed little confidence in their agency’s ability to effectively safeguard, with certainty, the nation’s many digital assets.

According to the TechAmerica poll, government CIOs are somewhat reluctant to embrace government-wide goals to centralize and standardize IT procedures across different agencies. With each individual agency reporting its own unique challenges and concerns regarding the source and intent of digital attacks, many CIOs fear the efforts to strengthen the federal IT system as a whole will leave their own systems more vulnerable. Also, CIOs say the lack of funding for a major IT overhaul – even one that will, in theory, improve overall security – is another significant barrier to progress. 

Even after several years of drastic budget cuts, funding freezes and other cost-cutting measures, budgetary issues failed to outweigh cybersecurity as the number one concern of CIOs in the TechAmerica poll, but it was close. Tight budgets were the number two concern among those surveyed, and the IT leaders frequently expressed frustration with the notion that slashed budgets will automatically lead to better cost control in technology departments. While government leaders have encouraged innovation and out-of-the-box thinking as a way to maintain a certain level of operational performance in the face of dramatically fewer resources, the CIOs polled say the actual result has been a predictable reduction in the capabilities of IT staffs just when their efforts are needed the most to defend against increasing digital threats. 

On a positive note, CIOs in the TechAmerica survey say the dual challenges of greater threats and fewer assets have improved inter-agency communication and resource sharing. It may be out of grim necessity, but, according to those polled, cooperation among IT departments in different parts of the federal system can and will eventually lead to better security and efficiency once budget stability returns. At least, that’s what government CIOs are hoping.

Source: TechAmerica report: “Fiscal Constraints and Future Challenges – Driving Innovation at the CIO Level”