State CIOs, feds talk collaboration

A group of 18 state chief information officers met with representatives from the Bush administration and Congress this month to discuss how to develop a more collaborative approach for addressing cybersecurity, homeland security and other national concerns.

The meeting, the third annual "fly-in" for National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) members, included about a half-dozen new state CIOs appointed since last November's elections.

It's a proactive way to engage the federal government rather than wait to be invited to the table, said Missouri CIO Gerry Wethington, NASCIO's president. The event also increases state CIOs' role and visibility, he added.

It was an educational and lobbying effort, but not one to ask for funding. "We didn't come here with our hands out," Wisconsin CIO Matthew Miszewski said during a press conference.

Instead, many said they're trying to "brand" NASCIO, offering the association and its members as a resource to be tapped for technology-related concerns.

The group held 73 meetings July 10 with congressional lawmakers, their aides and others on a range of topics, including enterprise architecture, spam e-mail and interoperability.

Nevada CIO Terry Savage said he specifically talked with his congressional representatives about changing language within the federal grant process regarding communications interoperability.

Savage proposed requiring grantees to consult with certain state committees before spending the money. This, he said, would ensure the money is spent wisely and fits into a state's strategy for seamless communications.

On the second day, the group held an intergovernmental roundtable discussion on cybersecurity, including policies, information sharing, architecture and coordination. Participants included state and local government representatives, industry leaders and federal officials, including Steve Cooper, the Homeland Security Department's CIO, and Karen Evans, vice chairwoman of the CIO Council and the Energy Department's CIO.

Although the group didn't reveal what resulted from the roundtable discussion, several CIOs pointed out during other meetings that some congressional representatives admitted cybersecurity was beyond their scope of understanding. Wethington said some don't realize how it's related to preventing identity theft and other critical services.

George Newstrom, Virginia's technology secretary who led the cybersecurity discussion, said there is an effort to better define cybersecurity. "We've got to do it in English, then in computerese," he said, adding that CIOs must educate the public about how the issue relates to, for example, an individual's health, tax and motor vehicle records.

He called the issue "looming and innocuous," still several years away from being fully understood, much like the Year 2000 problem was several years before it became a national concern.

Wethington said the face-to-face meetings with lawmakers and federal officials during the past three years have shown a marked difference in their tone.

Whereas federal officials used to lecture, he said they now discuss, offering advice and giving suggestions. Institutional memory has also built up on Capitol Hill. NASCIO is being tapped by many federal agencies — including the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Accounting Office and DHS — for input.

The organization will develop a strategy based on the meetings in time for the group's annual conference, to be held in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sept. 7-10.

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