GT: What did you learn from the select committee hearings earlier this year?
Kopp: Overall, I learned that the state of California, which has approximately 125 departments, doesn't posses a simple or similar method for acquisition of technology. It doesn't posses a consolidation of authority to purchase information technology.
It does have, of course, several large-scale projects in progress. It has the promise of the new Department of Information Technology [DOIT], along with a new director who could lead a more consolidated effort in acquiring and utilizing information technology. He has begun, in some instances, some inventive and advanced uses of information technology for the public at large and for interaction between several state departments.
GT: Was one of the main purposes of the series of hearings for legislators to learn about information technology issues?
Kopp: Yes, it was informational, and I'm gratified that the departments cooperated and furnished information to the committee. It was, overall, a gratifying series of hearings.
The hearings were successful in providing information, but were also successful in terms of imparting to state agencies the interest of the state Senate in information technology -- the interest in the efficient and effective exercise of responsibilities by the Department of Information Technology.
I wanted DOIT and the director to know that the state Senate will continue to monitor the activities of that office, the performance of the office, and the performance of John Thomas Flynn as the director.
GT: How important is it for lawmakers, such as state Senators, to learn about the concept of managing information technology in state government?
Kopp: It's extremely important because information technology is the future. Most legislators are of a generation which conventionally articulates and thinks of policy development in pre-technology days or in pre-technology ways. That must change.
Without the kind of information collected in the hearings, and collected for the members of the select committee, that change would probably be retarded.
GT: What have you identified as priorities as the Department of Information Technology gets off the ground?
Kopp: Those areas are in the larger areas of state governmental activities and transactions. Those are, for example -- with respect to the Department of Motor Vehicles -- making information available in the judicial system and the Health and Welfare Agency.
GT: Have you identified certain things that are working, such as multiple award schedules or best-value procurement, which are being implemented and used by the state?
Kopp: I learned last year, as a member of the Senate Budget Committee dealing with the failed performance of technology in the Department of Motor Vehicles, that there have to be contractual requirements, such as establishing satisfactory operations, before the state pays fully for equipment or technology. That's certainly one of the lessons.
That's the responsibility of [California CIO] Flynn, and he knows that. He knows the spotlight is on him. He seems confident and we'll see a little later in the year if my confidence thus far in his competency is warranted.
GT: Some changes in procurement law have been made over the past few years -- what still needs to be changed?
Kopp: I expect Flynn to transmit to me recommendations for legislative changes. I'm carrying one bill, for example, that embodies that with respect to the powers of the Department of Information Technology [Ed. note: SB 1898 would allow appointment of some department officers to be exempt from civil service]. That's one bill he recommended and sponsored, in effect. He's been invited to provide me with other recommendations for next session.
I expect to process legislation in the next session as he becomes more familiar with what the state needs, particularly with procurement. There are some standard contractual provisions that the state ought to have and that is particularly what I want recommendations from them about.
GT: The new Department of Information Technology has some oversight responsibilities basically cutting across state government. But departments have created their own culture over the years and their own way of doing things, and may be reluctant to follow DOIT's lead. How should Flynn and his department approach this?
Kopp: That's the assignment the governor conveyed to him. Unless he carries out that edict, he won't be here very long because he knows the governor expects execution of that kind of revision so that departments aren't islands with their own manner of dealing with electronic data. He knows that the Select Committee and the Senate will be looking over his shoulder.
But it's early. He just got here last November. By the end of the session August 31, I would expect some tangible changes.
I think the departments are led to understand by the governor that Mr. Flynn possesses broad and wide-range authority.
GT: Implicit and explicit?
Kopp: I think it's implicit and I think some departments know it explicitly.
GT: The next set of questions has to do with your bill, SB 323, which would, among other things, require agencies to create systems that are designed to ease public access to public records. The bill has been hard-fought by access proponents, including newspapers, on one side, and state and local governments on the other. What is the core of the conflict?
Kopp: The core of the conflict is the nature of information technology developed and constructed by state and local government. A question on records is, can a public record be obtained by any member of the public and then utilized for profit,
or are cities, for example, entitled
to generate and obtain a profit from the technology developed with taxpayer dollars?
It's an area that is new. With a conventional written record, there doesn't appear to be much in the way of profit potential. But with electronic data, there is profit potential. The cities resent the use of electronic data for commercial purposes by sellers of it, when people who are part of the public buy it, organize it and make it available for profit. That's a difficult clash.
Everyone is entitled to public records at the cost of reproducing the writing, which is maybe a nickel a page and three minutes of a city employee's time divided into the city employee's total salary. The cities believe that data should sell for more than just the cost of reproducing it on a screen.
GT: So what is a middle way or compromise between governments and access advocates?
Kopp: I don't know. That's a two-year bill which passed the Senate last year. Afterwards I put the Senate on notice that the bill was, in large part, a working document that would be worked on and worked over in the Assembly. I haven't yet set it for hearing in the Assembly Local Government Committee because the sides can't agree.
It's the kind of bill that the author should conscientiously try to secure an agreement on rather than leaving it to committee members to cast a vote. The two policy points of view are so strong that the bill won't succeed or pass both houses, and it won't be approved by the governor. So as a practical matter we need to reconcile the disputes and the differences.
California State Sen. Quentin Kopp, who represents San Francisco, is among many legislators across the country working to understand both how information technology impacts state government and strategies for leveraging technology.
Kopp chairs the new Senate Select Committee on Information Services in State Government. The committee held a series of hearings early this year to take testimony from judicial and executive branch officials, who explained their needs to legislative members wishing to become better informed on information technology issues.
The following interview was conducted by GT Features Editor Brian Miller.