What is an Authorizing Official?

An Authorizing Official (AO) is a senior official with the authority to formally assume responsibility for operating an information system at an acceptable level of risk to organizational operations, organizational assets, individuals, other organizations, and the nation. This role is crucial in the NIST Risk Management Framework (RMF), which is a set of criteria that dictate how United States government IT systems must be architected, secured, and monitored.

The AO is typically someone with the knowledge and authority to weigh the risks and the operational need of a system, and to approve its operation, such as Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In order to prevent any conflicts of interest, the AO is never the information system owner (ISO). They ensure the system meets the required security controls and compliance standards before granting an Authority to Operate (ATO). The AO also works closely with information system owners, security officers, and other stakeholders in the process of certifying that systems are secure enough to handle the data they process and store. They play a key role in the continuous monitoring and assessment of the system's security posture throughout its lifecycle.