Bob McDonnell, governor, Virginia/Photo courtesy of Virginia Governor's Office Bob McDonnell, governor, Virginia Photo courtesy of Virginia Governor's Office

Virginia's CIO has a new boss -- Gov. Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell signed legislation Monday, March 15, that puts the state's CIO directly under the governor's authority, taking that power away from the Information Technology Investment Board -- the independent body that formerly oversaw the CIO's performance and hired for the position.

Some observers believe the move could shake up the Virginia Information Technologies Agency's troubled outsourcing agreement with Northrop Grumman, a 10-year, $2.3 billion IT services and management contract that's the largest of its kind among the nation's state governments.

The law is effective immediately, according to the governor's office.

"It creates a more open process by which to share information between the agency and Secretary [of Technology Jim] Duffey, and therefore enhances accountability," McDonnell said in a statement.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch news, it's unclear if McDonnell will choose to replace state CIO George Coulter, who only last summer took over for longtime CIO Lem Stewart. The investment board fired Stewart after he withheld payment of an invoice to Northrop Grumman because the vendor was "not meeting [its] contractual obligations."

After a legislative audit last fall slammed the agreement's performance and prompted criticism from lawmakers, VITA and Northrop Grumman have been working together on a remedy plan in an effort to improve service. The Times Dispatch reported Monday that McDonnell's administration is currently attempting to renegotiate the contract and that it could result in added taxpayer expense. A state budget on the governor's desk also may include staff reductions for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, the newspaper added.

Over the past year, Virginia's unique reporting structure for its IT leadership faced criticism in some circles. Some claimed that unnecessary discontinuity was happening because the secretary of technology reported to the governor and the CIO to the investment board -- a system that was put in place during former Gov. Mark Warner's administration with the hope of increasing transparency and encouraging innovation. Warner's successor Tim Kaine pushed to bring the CIO under the governor's office before he left office in January.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council trade association praised the new law. "The private sector has long recognized that it is very difficult for a CEO to be successful if the company's CIO reports outside the chain of command and is not accountable and responsible to the CEO," said council President and CEO Bobbie Kilberg in a statement.