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Arkansas Cabinet Shakeup Will Benefit IT Efforts, CIO Says

A transformation two years in the making is about to change Gov. Asa Hutchinson's cabinet and state government as a whole. CIO Yessica Jones says the shift should make it easier to drive IT projects forward.

Arkansas will see a shakeup in state government two years in the making when the governor’s cabinet shrinks from 42 directors to 15 secretaries in less than a month.

The process started when Gov. Asa Hutchinson established the Office of Transformation in December 2016 to identify potential efficiencies and implement ways to streamline state operations. Hutchinson then presented his organization plan in October and lawmakers passed the restructuring into law in April. The governor recently announced his appointments to the 15-member cabinet, which is composed of the highest number of women, seven, in state history. The reorganization is estimated to save the state $15 million in its first year.

Chief Transformation Officer Amy Fecher, who has been assisting the governor in the realization of his vision, will be the secretary of the Department of Transformation and Shared Services.

“I think the governor looked at the 42 members that he had in his current cabinet and tapped those that had the skills and experience to run these agencies regardless of if they were male or female,” Fecher told Government Technology. “I’m thrilled that seven out of the 15 are females. I think that it does show a huge move forward in Arkansas and that can be an example across the nation that it’s possible for women anywhere to be in a leadership role as long as they are putting in the time, the work and the experience to get there.”

Fecher will oversee Geographic Information Systems, Employee Benefits Division, Division of Building Authority, Office of Transformation, Office of Personnel Management, Office of Procurement and the Department of Information Services (DIS)

“I believe the governor’s plan in putting the Department of Information Systems within [the Department of] Transformation and Shared Services is to elevate it and to show the other departments that he feels that this can be a major component of our transformation,” she said.

Chief Information Officer Yessica Jones, who heads DIS, said she believes the smaller cabinet will allow for improved advocacy of IT projects.

“[Currently,] whenever I work on a statewide solution, I have to deal with 100-plus directors,” Jones said. “Now, it’s going to be the secretary dealing with her other 14 cabinet members. By downsizing I think we’re going to be able to streamline a lot of the processes in [the Department of] Transformation and Shared Services.”

She said the reorganization will also free up the time she usually spends coordinating projects with other department heads, such as the state agency rollout of Office 365, broadband upgrades within the executive branch and identifying programs that can be moved to cloud services.

“We’re still working on all of our initiatives as normal and I think that will continue,” Jones said. “It’s more of once she comes on board it’s just briefing her on all the efforts that we have going on and the status of the projects and the big initiatives we have.”

Fecher said she believes technology will play a leading role as Arkansas continues to transform. She said her job as a cabinet secretary will be two-fold. She will work with her fellow secretaries to identify what can be optimized and where more efficient practices can be implemented, which she will convey to the governor. The companion aspect of her position entails more traditional oversight duties.

“The new secretaries will have to be looking across all of their entities to make sure there is some conformity to the same type of policies and actions on the day-to-day business,” Fecher said. “There will be some growing pains, but it’s also exciting and we feel like there’s a lot of new opportunities to improve what we’re doing within our agencies and our service to our customers and our citizens.”

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.