July 01, 2014
by David Stegon, StateScoop

Tuesday marked the first day of Florida’s new fiscal year and the official beginning of the Agency for State Technology, which will oversee the state’s essential technology projects and house Florida’s first chief information officer in more than three years.

After state lawmakers were able to push the bill through both chambers this past May, Gov. Rick Scott quietly signed legislation on June 20 creating the new agency.

The measure was met with great relief, as Florida has been the only state in the nation to operate without a CIO since Scott disbanded the old Agency for Enterprise Information Technology in 2011, at the time saying it was not an effective management structure for the state’s technology needs.

“Clearly the winds of change are blowing in the right direction in Tallahassee when it comes to how the state will more effectively manage over $733 million per year in IT spending,” said Carol Henton, the vice president for state, local and education for the public sector at the Information Technology Industry Council. “It’s a step in the right direction that will maximize resources, save taxpayer dollars and deliver more efficient and effective constituent services in the Sunshine State.”

Since the state last had a CIO, legislators – most notably state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a former Yahoo executive – have pushed to create such an agency. But each time, they have been unsuccessful. In one such instance, Scott vetoed legislation, feeling it did not give the potential new agency enough bite to be successful.

In the last year, though, the environment has drastically changed. This proposal emerged following widely reported troubles with Florida’s $63 million unemployment computer system and security breaches at giant retailers such as Target.

Those public problems increased concerns about the state’s current information technology structure in which CIOs of major agencies and departments regularly meet as a council to share ideas and best practices, but it offered no real oversight of the state’s various programs.

Additionally, that structure has led to other problems, primarily redundant projects and programs that have cost the state unnecessary money on IT and create uncertainty about how much the state spends on computing.

The new agency will include 25 new positions, including a CIO, chief technology officer, chief information security officer, a chief planning officer and six strategic planning coordinators, among others. It will be in charge of reviewing all technology purchases more than $250,000, establishing project management and oversight standards and performing project oversight for state agency IT projects that cost at least $10 million.

Gov. Rick Scott is battling Charlie Crist to keep his seat as Florida’s governor. The ongoing election will likely delay the appointment of a full-time CIO.

The new law also establishes a Technology Advisory Council that will make recommendations on matters such as enterprise IT policies, standards, services and architecture. The advisory body is also charged with providing input on how public-private partnerships should be considered “to accelerate project delivery and provide a source of new or increased project funding.”

But while the new agency now officially exists, it needs to be staffed, which will start with picking a CIO. That process, though, could take some time for a variety of factors.

Perhaps the most important factor is that Scott, who is currently involved in an ugly re-election campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist, will appoint the position. Crist currently leads Scott in the polls by two points, according to Real Clear Politics, and with just a few months to Election Day, it’s likely that a decision on a CIO will wait until after the voters make their decision in November, as whoever claims the Governor’s Mansion would surely want someone that aligns with their political views and priorities in the position.

Dominic Calabro, the chief executive at state watchdog Florida TaxWatch, advocates hiring an interim CIO to get the ball rolling until a permanent person can take the job.

“While the bill has specific criteria for the CIO as a proven administrator with public and private sector experience, a nationwide search could take a year or more,” Calabro said.

“It is imperative that in choosing the state’s first CIO, Florida conducts a thorough search to find the right candidate,” he said. “This person will be responsible for laying the foundation of an agency that has the potential to save hundreds of millions, if not billions, of taxpayer money, and to use technology to increase efficiency of service delivery for Floridians.”

This article originally appeared in StateScoop and can be found here