As CIOs have risen up the bureaucratic pecking order over the last decade to offices and titles ever closer to the CEO, one step remains -- running for elected office. It's not that CIOs aren't political -- many of them owe their positions to political patronage, and they know the ropes. It's just that none of them seemed to want to get into that branch of politics.
One former state CIO, John Thomas Flynn, is taking that final step.
Flynn -- vice president of advisory services for the Center for Digital Government, owned by e.Republic, which also publishes Government Technology magazine -- has been around the public-sector block.
Former President Ronald Reagan appointed Flynn executive director of the Federal Regional Council, a White House intergovernmental coordinating organization, in 1982. During Reagan's second term as president, Flynn was appointed New England regional director of the U.S. Department of Labor. He continued this role in the first Bush administration through 1989.
At the state level, Flynn was selected as Massachusetts' first CIO in 1994 by then-Gov. William Weld. Two years later, Flynn headed west to do it again -- serving as California's first CIO at then-Gov. Pete Wilson's request.
He was lucky enough to get the job just before the Y2K frenzy hit state government, becoming the state's default year 2000 guru and holding the responsibility of coordinating remediation of the state's 3,000 computer systems. In 1997, Flynn was elected president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).
In early January, he announced his intent to run for a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, joining 12 other candidates in a race to fill the 5th Congressional District in California. The seat is vacant due to the untimely death of Democratic Rep. Robert Matsui.
Flynn doesn't have a lot of time to get his message out to potential voters -- if none of the 12 candidates receives more than 50 percent of the votes in a March 8 special election, a runoff election between the top vote getters will be held in early May.
Flynn said he understands that a CIO running for office won't mean a lot to the average voter, but the legislative branch at the state and federal levels does need more technologically aware members.
He said comments in a news story from a leading committee chairman in Congress stating that approximately 10 people in Congress really care about the Federal Information Security Management Act indicate a lack of interest in issues such as cyber-security. "That's probably the same percentage in most of state government," Flynn said.
"Unfortunately people don't get elected because they say, 'I'm going to go in there and change technology around,'" he continued, "because what don't we do now that isn't touched, positively or negatively, by the success -- or lack thereof -- of information systems?"
Flynn said technology will be a central part of his campaign.
"I just think there are better ways we could be doing things -- breaking that digital divide, utilizing technology to better serve the American people, whether it's issuing food stamps, hooking up seniors with prescription drug programs or finding jobs for people," he said. "We just don't do it, and it's a combination. It's the federal level, the state level and the local level."
A former state CIO holding a congressional seat could make things a bit easier for states as they work with Congress to solve IT problems impacting government, said Tom Jarrett, CIO of Delaware and president of NASCIO.
"I would hope it would have an impact, given the fact that someone with that kind of background understands a lot of the things that we