Point of View

Fickle Winds of Change

by / January 29, 2003
Regardless of your viewpoint on our political system, it is -- for better and worse -- the governance engine for this nation. Of course, it is much easier to point out the fallibilities of this democracy in action -- political scandals, backroom deals gone bad, lobbyists running amok, officials discovered in what I'll delicately term "compromising" positions -- than to focus on the positive. Then, of course, there is the time-honored patronage system that manifests itself about now -- soon after the inauguration of newly elected officials.

In our world of government and technology, there is new concern about the politics of change. We are at a juncture in the evolution of e-government, which is morphing to digital government, when many IT projects have been launched based on long-term strategies developed by pioneers in our field. The job security of many digital government leaders is subject to the game of politics -- a game they elected to play upon accepting the posts of CIO or secretary of technology. Change comes with the territory. In 2002 in particular, the focus was integrity of IT work completed or in progress.

There is hope that new governors and elected officials will recognize the value of effective digital government, and immunize proven systems and projects from the ruthless carving knife of politics. On an optimistic note, we are hearing that newly elected legislators, and some governors and their close advisers, are more IT savvy than their predecessors. On a realistic note, politics probably will continue to steer the ship of state; new leaders will want to create their own legacies, sometimes yielding to the temptation to wipe the previous administration' slate clean.

This is an issue outgoing government IT leaders grappled with as they anticipated leaving office. Is there a way to institutionalize good digital government projects and take them off the bargaining table when change occurs? Features Editor Tod Newcombe takes a look at post-election IT priorities in some key states. His article chronicles some efforts to preserve the accomplishments made over recent years and takes a look at dramatic changes bound to affect IT management.

And News Editor Shane Peterson created another thoughtful piece based on California's IT experience. He looks beyond the borders of the state that suffered perhaps the nation's biggest e-government tumult in 2002, to new governance models that may emerge. If time has shown us anything, it's that no one formula for successful management of technology in government exists. Enterprise, centralized, federated, dispersed in the right environment with proper leadership; each paradigm has the potential for success.

In the coming months, as new administrations define their visions and select their leadership teams, the digital government landscape may look different than it does today. Indeed, some may choose new models, such as those proposed in Peterson's article. But, if incoming technology leaders inherit anything from their predecessors, it might be the idea that it is time to develop policies that protect investments in effective IT systems from the fickle nature of politics.
Darby Patterson Editor in Chief