Business & Finance
02:07 PM

State Laws Mandate Sweeping Reforms

Vermont and Virginia are the latest to consolidate IT operations

A few governors are transforming their states' IT culture with the stroke of their pens. By signing legislation, these governors have established new state IT practices that, for the most part, centralize IT authority with a cabinet-level CIO.

Vermont and Virginia are the latest states to do this. "The information superhighway will no longer detour Vermont," Gov. Jim Douglas said at a signing ceremony earlier this month. The Vermont law creates the Department of Information and Innovation with its commissioner-designated state CIO and consolidates IT workers and services into one agency.

Virginia's law is the most sweeping reform of any state in the way it develops and acquires IT, Gov. Mark Warner said upon signing the legislation this month. "These common-sense technology reforms will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and help deliver a more efficient, effective, and user-friendly state government," the former IT venture capitalist said. Virginia's year-and-a-half consolidation effort kicks off July 1.

That same day, Delaware is slated to complete a similar two-year IT makeover that eliminates civil-service protection for state IT professionals. In turn, the state pledges to pay its tech workers salaries competitive with local businesses.

Georgia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina are among the other states that have used laws to change IT management, according to the Center for Digital Government, a state and local government market-intelligence firm. Most states use gubernatorial directives to rejigger how IT organizations run. Those directives have the force of law, but can be undone by the next governor.

Virginia and Vermont are unusual in passing laws, which require legislative approval to overturn. "We probably could have gotten most of what we wanted through an administrative directive or executive order, but this is a long-term process, and we wanted buy-in from the Legislature," says Eugene Huang, Virginia's deputy technology secretary.

The laws are designed to eliminate stovepipe operations and redundant spending, which can pit agency against agency in the battle for IT funds. "That's why IT needs to be institutionalized," says Cathilea Robinett, the Center for Digital Government's executive director. "You don't want IT to be a political issue."

The Virginia law eliminates three agencies and two boards, establishes the Virginia Information Technology Agency, and gives the state CIO authority to oversee planning and development of all IT projects as well as all purchasing. Virginia will consolidate 94 state IT departments into the new agency beginning this summer.

The Delaware law established a centralized, cabinet-level IT department that rewards IT workers with promotions based on achievements. "In the old merit system, it was pretty difficult to move up through the ranks," says state technology and information secretary and CIO Tom Jarrett. "The retention of employees is an important part built into the process, which will give us a better shot of retaining people longer."

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