The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) recently reversed a stance it fought long and hard for: that CIOs should assume roles in governors' Cabinets across the country, directly reporting to governors and on equal footing with other big-time department heads or secretaries.
The move reflects a growing belief within NASCIO's current Executive Committee that what the CIO does daily is more important to government than the CIO's position on the organizational chart. Removing CIOs from the governor's Cabinet also could inject needed stability into the position.
As Cabinet members, CIOs changed when governors left office. The current trend may let CIOs span administrations, producing better continuity in government IT strategies.
The jury is still out on what the changes could mean for the CIO position.
At first glance, it seems this devolution is a loss of power and prestige. There's little doubt CIOs' stature grew over the last few years. Governors saw the value of having a CIO in their Cabinet to consult before committing to large executive-branch IT projects. Other Cabinet heads also saw that the CIO had the governor's ear -- and that sort of political capital can be spent in many ways.
But some argue that moving down the food chain could give CIOs more power than before. The move may increase CIOs' influence by aligning them with budget or finance directors -- the brass actually running the day-to-day show in some state governments.
NASCIO led the push over the last few years to elevate CIOs to Cabinet status, and the group's decision to remove that objective from its strategic plan is eyebrow-raising, if nothing else. That push seemed to suggest reporting lines are very important, but NASCIO's current Executive Committee has signaled more concern about what the CIO does daily.
"Our current leadership has clearly articulated to the membership through the strategic planning we did last year that it's more important the CIO be involved in the business decisions of state government -- running the business of IT -- and not critical that they be direct reports to the governor," said Doug Robinson, executive director of NASCIO.
"We have many CIOs who are very effective and have the necessary authority commensurate with the responsibility they need to get the job done -- and they don't report to the governor," he explained.
Getting what you want is dangerous, and CIOs have paid a price for reporting to the governor -- when the governor goes, the CIO goes. The CIO has been politicized by that cozy relationship.
"Several CIOs tell me they find themselves in a more advantageous position not directly reporting to the governor because they can focus more directly on the business activities of IT, as opposed to getting into some of the partisan issues," Robinson said.
It's not that NASCIO doesn't want the profession to advance -- the association realizes somebody needs to control IT at an enterprise level, and CIOs clearly have the expertise to fill that role.
"I don't think we're seeing an erosion of that at all," he said. "If I was seeing that, I would be concerned."
Nationally a handful of states have rearranged reporting lines for their CIOs, according to NASCIO. "When you look to the reporting arrangements and governance models, we're seeing a couple of things," Robinson said. "One is probably a flip by four or five states of the CIO going from a chief executive line of report to a departmental or Cabinet line of report."
Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Nebraska recently changed CIO reporting lines from the governor's executive office to department-line reporting, such as a department of administration, according to Robinson. In addition,