Iowa governor dismisses CIO

Iowa Information Technology Department

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has fired Richard Varn, the state's chief information officer for the past four years and the leader of its Information Technology Department, along with five other agency heads.

Varn said the recently reelected governor told him that technology would not be a focus during his second term. Instead, He said Vilsack would focus on economic development, education and health care.

"He can't support the things we want to do and he wants to spend his political capital on those three things," said Varn, who said leaving was a mutual decision. He said he has been frustrated watching the drastic cuts made to his department's budget and staff during the past two budget cycles as Iowa faced a massive shortfall.

"We don't share a common vision for what technology should be used for," said Varn, one of the nation's most knowledgeable government officials on a wide range of technology issues, from identity theft to health data privacy.

Varn, who will be on the state payroll until Jan. 2, said he's unsure where he'll wind up next. A former professor at the University of Northern Iowa, he said he may go back to academia, but he probably will be headed toward the private sector.

An active member of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Varn lent his expertise and experience in several of the group's committees and workgroups. He also has spoken at major conferences and has made several trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby and testify before a congressional subcommittee.

Varn may continue his work on technology issues with the Council of State Governments and the Harvard Policy Group.

In Iowa, Varn said he was proud of his achievements despite dwindling resources. Among the achievements he cited were:

* Helping to create the state Information Technology Department in April 2000.

* Establishing a pooled technology fund and service model for state agencies.

* Creating an enterprise quality assurance office.

* Spearheading an enterprise resource planning initiative.

One of Varn's most recent projects was to create an Identity-Security Clearinghouse that would strengthen identification documents and reduce the issuance of fraudulent ones. He said that project might continue because it is an issue that has been around for quite some time and has only recently been receiving proper attention.

In the spring of 2001, Varn, a former state Democratic lawmaker, faced opposition from the Iowa Senate. State senators questioned the direction of the information technology department, among other things. At the time, Varn also said a local tax group lobbied against his confirmation for something he did when he was a legislator.

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