A new technology oversight program is coming to Oregon in the wake of the state’s botched health insurance exchange launch.

House Bill 4135 directs Oregon’s CIO to appoint a task force to advise and oversee technology projects in state agencies, boards and commissions. Introduced in February at the request of Gov. John Kitzhaber, the proposed law is designed to integrate IT expertise into the inner workings of state government.

Cover Oregon has been under fire since late last year. Amid the exchange’s failure, a highly controversial blame game between state agencies and private companies that shared responsibility for the exchange’s troubles has ensued.

In an interview with Government Technology, Alex Pettit, CIO of Oregon, denied that HB 4135 was a result of Cover Oregon’s problems, saying that the exchange’s issues were more in the build-out phase of the project, rather than the governance of it. He added that the process of developing a governance model for IT projects in the state began long before Cover Oregon’s problems were uncovered.

Some lawmakers questioned whether an internal IT oversight team would be effective, however. According to a report by OregonLive.com, several legislators expressed doubt about HB 4135’s impact during a budget committee meeting discussion.

Pettit – who resigned as CIO of Oklahoma last December to take the same job in Oregon – explained that HB 4135’s goal is to start “plugging IT into policy and strategy level type of discussions” in Oregon agencies.

For example, if one agency wants a business analytics solution, an IT expert on Pettit’s Strategic Technology Team could recommend a solution that has worked for other agencies, or discuss what challenges were faced, so potential problems and other roadblocks can be avoided.

Michael Jordan, Oregon's chief operating officer, explained that while HB 4135 assigns a good deal of oversight responsibility to the state CIO, the practical application of the bill will promote cross-agency collaboration.

"Strategic Technology Officers within the Office of the CIO, staffed in some cases with agency IT staff, will serve as brokers – striking the balance among flexibility, compatibility and accountability," Jordan said. "This new governance framework will increase enterprise coordination, reduce system duplication, align technology solutions and improve IT portfolio management."

Early Challenges

Former Oregon interim CIO Julie Pearson will be in charge of the team. Pettit revealed that he and other state leaders asked Pearson to come back and lead the new oversight initiative. The rest of the Strategic Technology Team’s roster is still up in the air. Pettit only has 18 people working under him, so he’ll be looking at other organizations to fill the spots.

“There’s simply not enough [IT people] to go around with us here,” Pettit said. “We’re asking the agencies to voluntarily rotate people into what we call rotational assignments for a duration of time to help us get things started. Then we’ll be asking leadership for financial support in the next budget.”

Oklahoma had a similar IT oversight program in place when Pettit was CIO of the that state. The initiative was a consequence of unifying all IT services under one group, so IT personnel were needed to orient agencies there to a new process.

By way of comparison, Pettit felt Oregon’s technology oversight team will be slightly different – it will serve as an extension of a collaborative leadership model championed by Jordan. Theoretically the Strategic Technology Team will have its finger on the pulse of all tech initiatives going on in the state and keep the governor and state leaders better informed.

“Without some way to surface those projects, lessons learned and what’s actually in practice … and conversely, what things didn’t deliver as expected, we’re having to learn and relearn many lessons multiple times,” he said.

HB 4135 passed the Oregon House of Representatives on March 3, and the Senate on March 6. At press time, the bill was awaiting the approval of Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. The measure will become law once signed by Kitzhaber.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.