Meet the politician who became a techie
Former Rep. Scott McPherson returns to the Florida statehouse as CIO
- By John Moore
- Dec 04, 2006
In 1980, Scott McPherson was elected to Florida’s House of Representatives. This year, after a lengthy information technology career, he returned to the state capital as the House’s chief information officer.
McPherson was 25 years old in 1980 and a rising star in the state’s Republican Party. Then he lost a re-election bid in 1982. Although he ran several more times, the voters never returned him to elective office.
Now as he moves into a new state government role, McPherson is drawing on his experiences from the past two decades. One of his top priorities is preparing the state for a possible influenza pandemic.
McPherson said he believes that another pandemic is inevitable and that CIOs will bear a significant burden when it occurs.
“The agency heads are going to turn to the CIOs,” McPherson predicted.
Agency leaders will want telework programs created and implemented on short notice, and reliance on e-government will likely increase as people avoid venturing to government offices, he said. But pandemic flu could cut into the already lean ranks of IT employees, he added, making it more difficult for agencies to provide services.
The state is now developing a triage plan to identify the core systems that must be maintained and those that can be temporarily shuttered. “IT needs to be able to get out in front of that issue today, so they don’t have to be making those decisions during the first or second wave of a pandemic,” McPherson said.
An unsuccessful House campaign in 1988 put McPherson on the technology track. That year, he bought a Columbia Data Products desktop computer. He didn’t use it during the campaign, but he took time to become familiar with the computer after his defeat.
McPherson learned the computer trade on the job, diving into the electronic guts of PCs and absorbing Novell and Microsoft training. Later, McPherson wrote a weekly technology column for the Tallahassee Democrat, which caught the eye of Republican officials looking for a new state party CIO. McPherson got the job, his experience as a state legislator helping to seal the deal.
“That was the first opportunity to have the fusion between my political self and my IT self,” he said.
The year was 1995. McPherson’s career has remained at the intersection of public service and IT ever since. In July 1998, Jeb Bush, then a candidate for Florida governor, asked McPherson about the Year 2000 rollover problem. McPherson, still the state’s Republican Party CIO, briefed Bush regularly on the topic throughout the campaign. McPherson also started thinking about what it would take to develop a statewide Y2K plan.
“People owned bits and pieces of the Y2K issue, but nobody was actually monitoring the entire state,” he said.
After Bush won the Florida governorship, McPherson helped implement Team Florida 2000, the state’s Y2K remediation initiative. The project paved the way for the creation of the state’s Office of Information Security, which McPherson helped launch in early 2001. By then he had become the state’s director of information security.
McPherson takes a collegial approach to solving IT problems, a former colleague said.
“Scott’s management style is one aimed at building consensus around major issues,” said Tim Moore, who worked with McPherson as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “He does this very effectively by making sure that he first understands the subject at hand and second by researching and understanding who the players are and what they have to contribute to the endeavor.”
Moore, now a partner with lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group, said McPherson was — and is — a master at consensus building.
“In the end, the true measure of leadership is having everyone involved feel like the solution is based, at least in part, on their good ideas,” Moore said. “As such, all involved own the solution and will work hard to see it succeed.”
As pandemic flu preparations continue, McPherson suggested that the reputation of government rests on its ability to provide service in a crisis.
“If we are unable to do that, we are going to take a huge credibility hit,” he said. “If we do our jobs correctly and rise to the task, we will generate huge amounts of good will.”