State and Local CIOs Share Views on Stimulus

Recession elevates role of government CIOs and their agenda.

by / March 11, 2009

The present situation is quite stark. "We have been under-investing in IT in states," said Minnesota CIO Gopal Khanna. "It shows in the highly decentralized legacy systems [that still remain in operation] and our lack of cyber-security readiness." Khanna, who is president of NASCIO, made his remarks at a conference Monday in Tysons Corner, Va., during a panel discussion on the changing federal IT landscape and its impact on state technology investments.

The CIO's stark assessment comes as no surprise. What is different is the fact that Khanna has been able to get his message across to the National Governors Association as states and localities scramble to deal with one of the biggest budget deficit challenges and the fast-moving stimulus bill that is expected to slow the economic slide and lessen the fiscal pain in nonfederal government.

As a result, governors and CIOs are talking together more than ever about the role of IT, whether it's for public safety, transportation or, as Khanna hopes, a more robust digital infrastructure for the country.

Aneesh Chopra, Virginia's secretary of technology, told the audience that the commonwealth was the first state to pass a budget that includes stimulus dollars. Look to see IT investments to flow toward health, broadband, smart grids and education, he said.

But Virginia's speedy response appears to be an exception. Local CIOs from Chicago; Denver; Harris County, Texas; Orange County, Fla.; and San Francisco said they were struggling to get details on how and what the stimulus means for IT.


Takai Credits Schwarzenegger

Like the local CIOs, California CIO Teri Takai couldn't get too specific about spending plans that relate to the stimulus funds. "I see the state focusing on some areas for immediate relief, such as Medicaid and unemployment. From an IT perspective, much of the funds are to fix our infrastructure, for example," she explained.

Instead, Takai spent most of the time outlining how her state is reorganizing IT so that it better aligns with the vast number of agencies and programs in the country's largest state by population and budget. "We've been lucky. The governor has been a huge supporter of what we are doing," she said. "We have been able to move [IT] ahead because the governor has been personally involved and has called 'IT our greatest asset and partner.'"

Brian Rawson, CTO of Texas, expects to see his state use stimulus funds for quick fixes, followed by some thinking on how to sustain the funded programs. Meanwhile, with $2.2 billion spent on IT annually, Texas is focusing on four broad transformational IT goals: infrastructure, security, access and innovation, according to Rawson.

In North Carolina, CIO George Bakolia pointed out that the governor and legislature have made commitments to invest in IT so that it becomes more enterprise, more consolidated and better managed. So far, funds have been tapped to build a new data center and to implement ERP to provide core human resources support for the state's 95,000 employees.

Tod Newcombe, Editor Editor, Public CIO