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Advancing A Tech Agenda

Gov. Mark Warner is implementing technology with savvy management to bootstrap legislative and policy changes and reshape Virginia's future

Gov. Mark Warner like his predecessors in Virginia, has a problem unique in American government: He doesn't have much time to leave a legacy. Virginia is the only state to limit its governor to one four-year term at a time.

Although Warner could run again in the future, for now his legacy involves reshaping the way Virginia government functions, borrowing heavily from his technology roots as co-founder of the high-tech venture-capital firm Columbia Capital Corp. and as an early investor and leader in mobile-phone provider Nextel Communications Inc. His technology-inspired vision focuses on using IT and the Internet to run the state more efficiently, to sculpt the educational system in order to create a highly skilled workforce that would be a magnet for new business, and to bring broadband and other technologies to rural areas so those regions can share in economic growth.

Now, just past the halfway point in his term, the most tech-savvy of governors finds himself investing most of his energy in trying to reform how Virginia government raises revenue, rather than getting technology to help change the way it operates. Warner, a Democrat, finds himself in an odd political position, wedged between two groups of Republicans who dominate the Legislature: the ultraconservative powers in the House of Delegates, who proffered fairly modest changes that limit any tax increases; and the moderately conservative leaders in the Senate, who submitted more sweeping alterations in the tax code that could raise taxes by $3 billion.

Mark Warner, governor of Virginia

Consolidating IT from 91 state agencies should save $100 million a year, Gov. Warner says

Photo courtesy of AP
Still, Warner, 49, claims some success in his government-technology reformation, leaving at least an imprint on the legacy he hopes to bequeath when his term expires in January 2006. His biggest accomplishment has been the establishment of the Virginia Information Technology Agency, which is midway through an 18-month process of absorbing the IT operations from 91 state agencies. Warner estimates that combining IT operations under VITA will save Virginia taxpayers nearly $100 million a year.

When Warner took office, no one knew how much Virginia spent on technology. Among his first acts as governor was hiring George Newstrom to be his technology secretary, charging the former EDS executive with uncovering that figure. Three weeks later, Newstrom reported that the state spent between $800 million and $1.2 billion annually on IT, but he couldn't get more specific. "We had no clue," Newstrom says.

Six months later, with the help of consultants at BearingPoint, Newstrom pegged the figure at $902.6 million, much of it wasteful. Warner and Newstrom immediately began to work with receptive lawmakers to create VITA. But VITA didn't turn out exactly as Warner envisioned.

Warner wanted VITA's CIO to report to the governor, but lawmakers didn't want to vest that much power with the governor. Instead, a board with five people appointed by the governor and four by the Legislature was formed to oversee the CIO. Warner wanted VITA to grab control of state IT immediately; the Legislature wanted a slower transition. The 18-month IT consolidation will be completed by the end of December. "This was a compromise; we didn't want to give the governor blanket spending authority for $1 billion," says Joe May, the Republican chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.

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