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Virginia Shakes Up IT Leadership Structure

A new law gives the state's CIO and secretary of technologies new powers and junks a bureaucratic oversight board.

Virginia's IT department -- a near-constant source of stress over the last year or two as the state has tried to deal with a troubled $2.3 billion outsourcing contract and bureaucratic wrangling -- has just gotten a shake-up.

New Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation Monday that gives the state's secretary of technology a number of new powers, makes the state's CIO directly accountable to the governor, and disbands an independent board that formerly had the power to, among other things, hire and fire the state CIO.

"This new governance and reporting structure will enhance [the Virginia Information Technologies Agency's] effectiveness and facilitate better information technology integration in the Commonwealth," McDonnell said in a statement. "It creates a more open process by which to share information between the agency and secretary [of technology Jim] Duffey and therefore enhances accountability."

Duffey sees a rise in stature as a result of the new legislation. He will now have the power to review and approve IT procurements and budget requests from the CIO, be able to terminate IT projects that aren't working, and review and approve technical and data standards.

He'll also be responsible for developing new criteria to re-define which efforts are deemed "major information technology projects" being undertaken by the state and for developing a risk management framework for those projects.

Meanwhile, the new advisory board will be stripped of much of its former power, some of which will now be the responsibility of the CIO. The Information Technology Investment Board's successor, now known as the Information Technology Advisory Council, will be used in a purely advisory capacity.

The body used to have the power to, among other things, hire and fire the CIO, which it used controversially last year to fire then-CIO Lem Stewart, who criticized Northrop Grumman, the contractor on the state's major IT outsourcing deal, for poor performance.

Current CIO George Coulter, meanwhile, now has the responsibility for developing budget justifications, an annual report on major IT projects that includes his assessment of the projects, and a two-year IT strategic plan that includes details on future efforts and a status update on ongoing IT programs.

The CIO will also have new formal responsibilities to oversee application planning, development, implementation, and improvement, and develop and recommend technical and data standards to the secretary of technology.

All this being said, it appears the state's IT department isn't nearly out of the woods. The relationship with Northrop Grumman remains rocky, and a budget bill on the table could give the legislature oversight over the Northrop contract, rather than keeping it in the hands of the CIO and secretary of technology, and would cut the state's IT staff by almost a third.

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