Delivering On Campaign Promises with Improved Government Services (Opinion)

CIOs need mayors’ and governors’ buy-in, and accountability structure to make transformation happen.

by / December 17, 2010

With the November elections thankfully behind us, political leaders are now turning their attention to delivering on campaign promises. For public CIOs, it’s a moment filled both with challenge and opportunity. Technological innovation is a vital component for achieving policy goals like broadening access to quality education; stimulating economic development; and improving government transparency, performance and efficiency.

Clearly CIOs will play a significant part in designing and deploying technologies to achieve these objectives — but CIOs won’t get there by themselves. Theresa Pardo, director of the Center for Technology in Government, writes in this month’s issue that CIOs will need the support of their bosses to succeed. Specifically political leaders must create an environment that’s conducive to transformation.

“Most truly transformational technology applications require changes in the institutional and organizational fabric of government,” Pardo said. “If CIOs are pressured to deliver on technology’s promises without receiving the gubernatorial support necessary to provide institutional and organizational capabilities, costly and critical failures may result.”

She says public CIOs must ensure that political leaders understand the policy and governance framework needed to support technical innovation. And Pardo argues that now — with recently elected mayors and governors just settling into office — is a crucial time for CIOs to make their case. Her article offers a road map for developing key foundational capabilities.

In late November, Public CIO visited one state that’s taking a hard look at these issues. During an editorial roundtable session in St. Paul, Minn., state and local government leaders credited the state’s newly formed Commission on Service Innovation with fostering productive discussion on tough issues like government consolidation, shared services and new funding models.

The Minnesota Legislature established the 19-member public-private commission earlier this year, stocking it with the state CIO and representatives from business groups, public employee unions, local government associations, nonprofits, K-12 schools and higher education. The group will create a strategic plan for re-engineering the delivery of state and local government services — examining options like realigning service delivery by region and proximity; creating shared facilities; deploying new technologies; and centralizing IT resources.

A draft report released by the commission in November makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • Launch a shared services program for state and local governments, and develop a new governing entity to oversee this and other commission-recommended activities.
  • Establish an investment fund to help state and local entities implement new technologies and other recommendations.
  • Consider “rechartering” existing agencies or parts of agencies to give them increased flexibility and authority in return for more accountability for results and a reduced budget.
  • Consider creating performance-based organizations — either public, quasi-public or nonprofit — that have performance agreements with a steering organization to deliver specific results at a specific cost.

The commission’s final report isn’t due until Jan. 15. But the draft shows the group’s diverse stakeholders attempting to refashion government services — and perhaps government itself — into something more efficient and effective. And that’s a strong first step.


Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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