Although there were some glimmers of hope, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers' (NASCIO) recent midyear meeting in Baltimore did not hold a lot of good economic news for public CIOs.
Budget experts said the worst of the recession may be behind us, but the nation still faces a very slow recovery. State spending, which actually declined over the past two years, will begin to climb again, said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers. But annual spending growth for state governments will top out at a meager 2.5 percent - about half its historic rate - for the foreseeable future, he said.
Add the fact that federal stimulus funds will dry up in 2011 and 2012, and the situation isn't pretty. "We're looking at very austere state budgets for the next several years," Pattison said. "There will be tough competition for state general funds. It will be hard for IT to compete against things like public safety and education."
How can public CIOs make an impact in what will continue to be a harsh environment? Consider some advice from Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, recipient of NASCIO's National Technology Champion Award this year.
"In these times of cascading budget cuts, I suppose it would become easy to think that your entire job is, 'How do I absorb the coming budget cuts?' But if that's the only thing that you are focused on, then your state, your county, your neighborhood is going to slip back," he said. "On the other hand, if we realize that by changing the sail, you can actually harness the adverse wind and figure out other ways to move forward. That's the trick, and that's really the key to where we are right now."
As former mayor of Baltimore and now governor of Maryland, O'Malley has a history of using technology to make government work smarter and more efficiently.
Under his watch, Baltimore's CitiStat initiative pioneered the use of data, analytics and GIS mapping to measure and improve the performance of city government. The initiative helped the city cut violent crimes by 40 percent and post one of the biggest overall reductions in crime by a major U.S. city over the past decade. Similar technology at the state level drove homicide rates to their lowest level since 1975. And the same data-driven approach also is helping Maryland monitor the Chesapeake Bay's health and track the impact of federal stimulus grants.
O'Malley clearly understands the power of aligning technology and policy. In an interview with Public CIO, he said that type of alignment is key to winning support for IT improvements.
"I always look for deliverables," he said. "What can we deliver that will benefit not only the information technology people in the departments, but how will that investment actually help us deliver progress toward major goals? Whether it's crime reduction, improving the health of the bay or improving health outcomes for poor kids."
That's good advice for any public CIO who needs to make the case for IT investment, especially over the next few years.