July 6, 2011 By Steve Towns
State CIOs believe they recently took a step toward stronger collaboration with their federal counterparts. More than 30 state CIOs were in Washington, D.C., in early May for the NASCIO Midyear Conference, and a delegation from the group held a highly productive meeting with members of the federal CIO council.
“It really was historic,” said Oregon CIO Dugan Petty, one of the participants. Petty and others said the meeting could pave the way for agreements on data standards that simplify and expand information sharing between state and federal agencies. It also could lead to new flexibility on federal funding rules that, according to state CIOs, encourage the development of inefficient, stovepipe IT systems.
For years, state CIOs have complained that rules for federally funded/state-administered programs often specify which hardware must be purchased and how it must be used. That encourages development of redundant systems and increases costs at both the federal and state levels. “If we were allowed to take more of an integrated approach, that would fit into our IT environments much more effectively and efficiently than what we are seeing today,” said NASCIO President Kyle Schaffer, CIO of West Virginia.
Now it appears there is growing momentum to look at these issues. State/federal activity at the NASCIO conference came on the heels of a White House memo directing federal agencies to identify regulatory and administrative burdens that if removed could potentially help state, local and tribal governments overcome budget shortfalls.
There’s also a healthy amount of intergovernmental cross-pollination occurring in important public-sector IT positions. The Obama administration’s top technology officials — CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra — come from state and local government and understand the challenges that federal regulations can create at those levels. And former federal officials, like North Carolina’s Jerry Fralick, have joined the ranks of state CIOs.
Fralick, another participant in the May meeting, brings a unique perspective to these discussions. He’s a former federal CIO and was chairman of the oversight board for Grants.gov, the federal government’s online portal for distributing grant funds. Fralick said more interaction between state and federal officials will lead to better policies.
“At the federal level, we are setting policy and setting a direction,” he said. “But I think we have created problems by pushing things down to the states and not really understanding the complexity of what the states are dealing with.”
Fralick also suggested that broader application of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) — which is already used extensively by state, federal and local law enforcement agencies — could lead to better intergovernmental collaboration in a wide range of other areas. Such a model could facilitate the sharing of both information and systems among multiple government entities.
“You would have applications that are developed based on a standard specification that states could use back and forth — so now you are starting to eliminate the situation where you have 50 different systems in 50 states that perform a similar function,” he said.
Fralick admitted that changing traditional intergovernmental relationships isn’t easy, but he and other NASCIO members said they’re encouraged by the talks so far. And one thing is certain: Growing fiscal pressure is ratcheting up the need for more productive partnerships between states, localities and federal agencies.
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