Mass. lawmakers name Asbedian CIO

Massachusetts State Legislature

The Massachusetts legislature last month selected Val Asbedian, who had led the state's House of Representatives information technology group since last fall, to become its first chief information officer.

The appointment not only centralizes and consolidates four legislative IT groups under Asbedian but also signals that lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware of technology's role in society, he said.

Asbedian believes the CIO has two functions. One is to manage, budget and improve technology and train personnel to use it. "But the other part of [the role is that it] provides a place in which the legislators can go for technical advice... when you have legislation that is related to privacy, security, online government [or] e-government," he said previously.

"The job...may not start that way, but I see [it] over the long run as being a place where there's advice that can be shared with policy-makers in their decision-making process," he said. Such a role is especially important as states compete with one another and internationally to attract business, he added.

Asbedian's top priority is ensuring that a new $4 million Web-based legislative management system meets its requirements and that his staff can operate it. He was instrumental in developing the proposal while with the state's information technology division, which is overseeing implementation of the system.

House Speaker Thomas Finneran said he sees the CIO as an adviser to legislative committees, including homeland security, by dealing with technology-related legislation.

"Massachusetts is very proud of its e-government initiative," he said. "The appointment of the legislative CIO will allow us to keep pace with the challenges and opportunities that technology affords us. The new legislative management system, which Val will oversee, will allow us to provide greater public access in a more efficient and cost-effective manner."

Minnesota state Sen. Steve Kelley, who has been involved with technology issues in his state and with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said legislatures have historically had two technology positions for each chamber to manage information systems.

There could be an argument to combine such positions and save resources, "but given the size of most legislatures, you have to ask the question: Do integration costs result in maintaining separate systems?" he said.

Although lawmakers are always looking for more sources of IT information, he said it might be a greater challenge for a legislative CIO to offer that kind of advice.

"The issues are so different from one area to another," Kelley said. "Privacy and computer security cuts across lines, but online learning is a different issue than telemedicine, and that's a different issue than consolidation of data centers. It's hard for a single legislative officer to give you the kind of insight you need on how information technology can be used."

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