Congress puts out welcome mat for state CIOs

State chief information officers say they find open doors on Capitol Hill these days, but they still must learn to communicate more effectively with lawmakers at all levels of government.

For the past four years, state chief information officers have descended en masse on Washington, D.C., to talk to Congress about national and local information technology issues. This year marked the first time that state CIOs did not need to explain the basic issues and terminology. Instead, congressional members and their staffs sought input from them on policy and legislation.

"When we came four years ago and talked about enterprise architecture, that was almost a foreign term... It's now a part of their language," said Missouri CIO Gerry Wethington, president of the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), which organized the visit.

The CIOs found congressional interest beyond the usual advocates. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, have been interested in the benefits of technology for federal, state and local agencies for a long time.

But CIOs received equal interest from several members of the appropriations committees, said Otto Doll, CIO for South Dakota.

One reason for the more attentive audience is that CIOs are learning to present technology concepts in a context that policy officials can understand, Wethington said.

But problems still arise when federal, state and local CIOs delve into enterprise architecture, which affects many other issues, he said.

"Enterprise architecture is not a meaningful set of terms for a lot of people on the governance side of government," Wethington said. "If we begin to talk in terms that people are used to [such as blueprint or business drivers], I think we'll be more successful."

Geospatial information systems were the topic of discussion with Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). Last September, he introduced the Geospatial Preparedness Act, which focuses on geospatial data for homeland security and infrastructure protection initiatives. Data gathered at the state and local levels is critical to complete the national systems and support these initiatives.

Ensuring privacy of citizens' data is an important issue at the local level, and Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) sought NASCIO members' input on privacy protection for Social Security numbers.

The 15 CIOs who participated in the meetings highlighted issues ranging from communications interoperability to information security. Funding was emphasized, and many discussions focused on contradictory or competing requirements for the use of federal grants.

Officials discussed governance and collaboration in almost every meeting, said Val Oveson, CIO for Utah. Poor collaboration among different levels of government frequently undermines projects in which several agencies work together with different sources of funding.

Governance was a topic during a roundtable discussion with federal and industry experts on wireless communications interoperability. As state officials eliminate communications interoperability problems, they should avoid creating new barriers among states, said Matthew Miszewski, Wisconsin's CIO.

Doll said that other officials said CIOs have to work not only with other technology and program employees but also with those in the political sphere.

Governance "has to integrate with CIOs as the technologists and also with industry and the various groups that support wireless communications," he said. "We are but one of several entities that have to make this happen."

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