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After Upheaval, Alaska Names Acting CIO, Permanent CISO

In the midst of turnover and consolidations, Alaska’s Office of Information Technology is being led by a veteran of several state departments. Exactly what he has planned for state IT remains to be seen.

John Boucher is the third person to hold the title of chief information officer in Alaska — whether in an acting or permanent capacity — since December 2018, but he may hold the title for some time.

After months of apparent upheaval in the Alaska Office of Information Technology, Boucher confirmed for Government Technology last week that he has been acting CIO since Feb. 14, and the state has also named a new chief information security officer.

Boucher said he was not aware of any search for a permanent replacement for his position.

“I’m here as long as Commissioner (Kelly) Tshibaka would like me to serve in this capacity,” he said, referring to the head of the Alaska Department of Administration that supervises OIT. “If the path that she chooses to take is to openly compete it, I will put my hat in the ring.”

Boucher was also Alaska’s acting CIO for about three months toward the end of 2018, after Bill Vajda resigned in August.

A career economist with a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Notre Dame, Boucher has had roles in several Alaska state departments over the course of nearly 36 years in public service. According to his LinkedIn profile, he started with more than 17 years as an economic analyst for labor market statistics for the Alaska Department of Labor. For five years he was the project manager of an agency-wide information systems replacement and integration project, Online Resource for the Children of Alaska, for the state’s Office of Children’s Services; for nine years he was a senior analyst/legislative liaison for the state Office of Management and Budget; and for two years he was the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administration. Boucher returned to the Office of Management and Budget in 2017, where he spent 18 months as a senior policy analyst, then moved to OIT in September 2018 as the state’s acting CIO in Vajda’s stead.

That’s where the recent shakeups started. In December 2018, without a formal announcement, newly elected Gov. Michael Dunleavy appointed a new CIO — Peter Zuyus, whose resume reflects a career at telecommunications companies around the country and ownership of a political consulting firm in Alaska, but who declined to answer calls and emails from the press. The office of the governor also declined to return calls requesting comment on Zuyus’ hire.

By mid-February, also without announcement or explanation, Zuyus was out. His contact information on the state website was temporarily replaced by that of Paula Vrana as acting CIO, who did not respond to a request for comment at the time.

Zuyus’ departure followed a series of leadership changes in the Department of Administration. The department’s head commissioner, Jonathan Quick, resigned Jan. 24 amid reports that he had lied on his resume. Vrana replaced Quick as acting commissioner for a week until Jan. 31, when Dunleavy chose a full-time replacement in Kelly Tshibaka, a former chief data officer for the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General and former counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice. Vrana then took over for Zuyus as acting CIO until Feb. 14, when Boucher stepped in.

Boucher declined to comment on Zuyus’ hire, departure or press shyness. A political blog, The Alaska Landmine, connected Zuyus’ departure in mid-February to missed payments on an $11.6 million contract for cybersecurity services awarded by the state in fall 2018 to California-based Evotek. Boucher would not comment on the Evotek contract, which The Alaska Landmine said has been terminated, or what the state is doing to meet cybersecurity needs for which state officials assigned more than $11 million last year.

“We’re trying to increase and harden our security profile within the resource constraints that we have,” he said. “Security is a priority for us, so we’re definitely trying to move forward to the best of our ability.”

Boucher also confirmed that Alaska has had a new chief information security officer, Mark Breunig, since January. According to his LinkedIn profile, Breunig has also been a project manager at Accenture, a senior manager of IT security at NANA Development Corporation, an IT manager for the municipality of Anchorage and the owner of his own IT security consulting business.

As someone who has had a hand in many state departments over three-plus decades, Boucher felt comfortable saying IT in Alaska, in general, is in a “challenged state.” More specifically he pointed to Administrative Order 284, an order from then-Gov. Bill Walker in April 2017 consolidating Alaska's IT assets to a standalone agency under the leadership of a state CIO. He said the state is working toward IT services and infrastructure being shared between all its departments, and that process is still ongoing.

“We’re attempting to execute a consolidation to a shared services model where it works and is appropriate, which many of the other states are going through some iteration of the same exercise,” he said. “Since the beginning of (AO 284), we’ve moved 140-some positions into the central IT organization from the agencies, the individual departments … We’ve used the phrase ‘commodity services,’ such as the delivery of endpoint support, data centers, that kind of stuff. Those are the first moves that we are making in terms of consolidation.”

Despite AO 284 and recent turnover in OIT, Boucher said he sees no significant difference between the structure of the department now and in 2018.

Talking to GT last week, he said he would be speaking to the state House finance subcommittee this week on IT projects or initiatives underway, but he declined to elaborate.

Alaska’s CIO under Walker’s administration, Bill Vajda, started a new job on March 4 as CIO of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.