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Hawaii Bill Would Have CIO Report to State Comptroller

Legislation awaiting Gov. Josh Green’s signature would have the state chief information officer no longer report directly to the governor. Critics say this could diminish the role and have a chilling effect on innovation.

A city on the coast in Hawaii.
New legislation that has cleared the Hawaii statehouse would put further distance between the governor’s office and the chief information officer, formally placing the CIO’s office under the state accounting agency — and having its leader report to the comptroller.

Awaiting Gov. Josh Green’s signature is state Senate Bill 2516, which would give added clarity to the operational and hierarchal structure for the Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS). The legislation, which as yet is unsigned, reaffirms ETS as a division within the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS) — but with the CIO reporting to the state’s comptroller and not to the governor any longer. The governor would continue to appoint the CIO, and set his or her salary, according to the legislation.

The legislation was needed to address “a structural deficiency that was inadvertently created when the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) was transferred from the Governor’s Office to DAGS,” according to testimony from Keith A. Regan, the state’s comptroller, March 20. As it stands today, the state’s organizational structure places ETS administratively within DAGS. The ETS budget is also set by DAGS. SB 2516 would clarify the reporting structure, placing the CIO and ETS firmly within the Department of Accounting and General Services.

ETS opposed the legislation, saying SB 2516 “would diminish the role of the state’s Chief Information Officer, and could set back the state’s efforts to modernize our IT capabilities,” former CIO Doug Murdock wrote March 14 in written testimony to the House Committee on Labor and Government Operations. Murdock retired May 31.

“Dual-hatting the CIO to deputy director under the Comptroller would diminish the authority and independence of ETS and the CIO,” Murdock wrote. “It could also lead to the CIO being assigned to projects unrelated to ETS’ statutory mission.”

Murdock recommended that the issue be studied by the Hawaii Information Technology Steering Committee, with a report to be issued during the next legislative session, adding, “creating a board or commission to oversee the duties of the CIO would be preferable to adding this responsibility to the comptroller.”

The Office of Enterprise Technology Services declined to comment on the legislation, beyond Murdock’s testimony.

In an emailed statement, Green’s office indicated it is “still reviewing the bill and awaiting final fiscal, legal and policy review, and … is unable to commit to his position at this time.” The governor has until July 10 to sign or veto the legislation. It becomes law after that date without his signature. SB 2516 passed the Senate 25-0 and cleared the House 48-0, with three members excused.

Hawaii state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who authored the legislation, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Officials with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) could not be reached for comment.

But those opposed to the legislation said ETS and its leadership ought to be given more autonomy, given the broad role of IT across numerous state agencies and its role in facilitating the modernization of state government.

“We have learned from the experiences here, and from observing successful government technology transformations in other states, that the state CIO must have a breadth of purview that is enterprise-wide,” said Christine Maii Sakuda, executive director of Transform Hawaii Government (THG), a nonprofit organization that advocates for a more accessible and responsive state government, in comments March 14 to the House Labor and Government Operations Committee.

“It must integrate the needs and functional areas across state agencies, departments, and divisions; and to do so, it is important for the CIO role to maintain a high level of stature in state government,” she continued.

For the state to “thrive in the digital age,” Todd Nacapuy, former Hawaii state CIO, said ETS must be its own independent and separate department.

“The proposed legislation, which suggests maintaining the CIO’s office under the comptroller’s jurisdiction or limiting its direct reporting line, undermines the strategic importance of IT in modern governance,” Nacapuy wrote Feb. 13 in testimony to the Legislature. “Such a structure risks stifling innovation, diluting accountability, and, ultimately, hindering our state’s ability to provide secure, efficient, and accessible services to its citizens.”

Eugene Chang, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in Hawaii, said the changes proposed by SB 2516 would “significantly hinder the impact of the Enterprise Technology Service,” according to testimony he submitted March 18 to the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

“Some of ETS’s strategic power requires coordination and compromises between departments,” Chang wrote. “Balancing these efforts for strategic gain is the governor’s responsibility. SB 2516 gives the comptroller the role of gatekeeper of these strategic opportunities.”

Michael Nishida, a technology professional with more than 35 years’ private-sector experience and a member of Hawaii’s IT Steering Committee, also cautioned against moves that would put distance between the CIO and governor.

“In today’s changing world, the CIO plays a vital role in orchestrating many people from various groups toward a common objective,” Nishida wrote in March testimony to the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. “To accomplish this, the CIO needs the governor’s authority. Moving the CIO under the state of Hawaii comptroller could change the CIO’s priorities to be cost-focused and would miss the intent of the governor’s initiatives to bring new or improved services to the people of Hawaii.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.