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The Club of 50: Data on State Chief Information Officers

Who are the people leading technology in state government? What career paths do they come from? How long do they stay in position? We gathered data for 206 state CIO terms going back to 1994 to find out.

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No, not governors — we're talking about state chief information officers, who have vast influence over gov tech in the U.S. They also find themselves in the somewhat unique position of being treated like political appointees, despite their work being (mostly) nonpolitical in nature.

To learn more about who these people are, the work they do and their backgrounds, Government Technology put together a list of as many state CIOs as we could find information for: what amounted to 206 state CIO terms in all 50 states going all the way back to 1994 (with more complete records for some states than others).

In the coming days, we will release the findings one slide at a time. Check back here for more data. 

To start off, here's a list of the most common names among state CIOs:

  • James/Jim: 14
  • David/Dave: 10
  • John/Jack: 8
  • William/Bill: 8
  • Michael/Mike: 7
  • Richard/Rich: 7
Editorial assistant Moriah Chace helped compile the information in this report.

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The Hot Seat

Common wisdom has held that a new governor typically means a new state CIO. But exactly how much of a sure thing is it? In other words, how often does a CIO "survive" a transition to a new governor?

It turns out to be about one-third of the time. It's a little less likely for a CIO to "survive" when the governor's seat changes parties, and a little more likely when it goes to a new member of the same party, but the differences aren't huge.

Because of this regular turnover, the average state CIO tenure isn't too high. We found that the average CIO stays in office for three years and six months. Included in this calculation is interim and acting CIOs who stayed in that role for at least a year.

The longest-serving CIO we found was David Litchliter. Litchliter served as CIO of the state of Mississippi for a staggering 17 years, from 1994 to 2011. His term spanned the administrations of three governors, the early days of the World Wide Web, the introduction of the iPhone and the birth of bitcoin. His successor, Craig Orgeron, has also enjoyed a longer tenure than most — he has been serving for about eight years and counting.

Aside from Litchliter, we found five other state CIOs that served for at least 10 years: Denise Moore (Kansas, 13 years, 1996-2009), Otto Doll (South Dakota, 14 years, 1996-2011), Brenda Decker (Nebraska, 10 years, 2005-2015), Mark Bengel (Tennessee, 11 years, 2007-2018) and Greg Zickau (Idaho, 15 years, 2004-present).

The shortest-serving CIO we found was Jim Mann. In 2011, it took incoming Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback more than 10 months to name a CIO, and his choice — Mann — stayed in the role only nine days. Shortly after news of Mann's appointment became public, the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that Mann's resume included a degree from an institution known as a "diploma mill." Brownback publicly defended his CIO, but nonetheless Mann submitted his resignation.

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Career Paths

For the majority of state CIOs, the position has been a road from government to the private sector.

That's painting with a broad brush, but in the past couple decades the trends have been pretty clear — for 59 percent of state CIOs, the last position they held before taking on the role was in the public sector. Combined with K-12, private and higher education, the number rises to 68 percent. The government positions they come from are varied; many come from lower positions within the IT department, but others have come from IT leadership roles in other departments, the federal government, from local governments or sometimes from court systems. A few, such as Teri Takai and Alex Pettit, went from one state CIO position to another.

After serving as state CIO, 52 percent go to the private sector — and keep in mind, only 28 percent were in the private sector immediately before becoming CIO. These new jobs, too, are quite diverse. Many go on to work for technology companies, often those that sell to government, but others have taken positions at robotics companies, banks, fast food corporations and miscellaneous others. Some have gone into business for themselves, acting as consultants.

The data only takes into consideration the positions held immediately before and after a person was CIO, so it misses the nuances in careers that come to define many of their perspectives. If a person had a long career in the military, for example, but went to work in the private sector for a couple years before becoming CIO, the data would simply show them as coming from the private sector.

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Where Did the Women Go?

There has never been a time when women were close to making up half of state CIOs. But they used to be a lot closer.

From 2006 to 2010, about 20 percent of state CIOs were women (based on all available information for each year). After that, the number steadily dropped, reaching a nadir of 8 percent in 2015. It hasn't changed significantly since. Overall, 17 percent of state CIOs have been women.

Today there are four female state CIOs — Amy Tong in California, Theresa Szczurek in Colorado, Yessica Jones in Arkansas and Stephanie Dedmon in Tennessee. A couple CIO positions are still open.

The two states that have had the most female CIOs are Arkansas and Colorado:

  • Carolyn Osborne was CIO of Arkansas from August 2002 to June 2004.
  • Claire Bailey led Arkansas IT from December 2006 to October 2014.
  • Yessica Jones took over in March 2017 and still holds the position.
  • Kristin Russell served as Colorado CIO from February 2011 to April 2014.
  • Suma Nallapati took on the role from June 2014 to January 2019.
  • Theresa Szczurek holds the job now.
The reasons for the trend are not apparent.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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