CIOs need political muscle, panel says

NAPLES, Fla. — Chief information officers wanting to partner with politicians on technology issues should seek out a champion who is credible and trusted in the political arena, officials said today.

"I think if you want to accomplish anything through the legislative process, you have to decide what legislators you want to select to help you," said Kentucky Rep. Mike Weaver, speaking on a panel at the Government CIO Summit sponsored by FCW Media Group.

Dealing with funding issues and priorities means CIOs need a legislative partner, regardless of political affiliation, officials said. Reaching beyond political parties to the needs and benefits of technology can help CIOs gain funding, they said.

Kentucky CIO Aldona Valicenti sought out Weaver for support of wireless interoperable communications systems. Valicenti saw in him someone with a military background interested in public safety issues, and he said it was important to research the right legislator. Weaver also had the credibility and reputation among his peers to stand up for something he believed in, a key trait in a strong partner, he said.

The technology may be apolitical and supported by the entire political spectrum, but the champion you choose must also be respected across the political landscape, Weaver said.

Wisconsin CIO Matthew Miszewski, a Democratic appointee by the governor, found his ally in a conservative Republican who shared his views on technology. Although he faced major budget cuts, Miszewski knew he was appointed as a change agent, and the cuts were a strong motivator.

"It's the accountability that's been missing in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "That helped me gain ground with the right-wing Republicans. It's simply too important for this discussion to be wrapped up in partisan politics."

One way around the politics is to focus on saving money, Miszewski said. By showing the benefits spending money on technology can have on funding other social services, CIOs can make a case to legislators for tech funding, he said. "My job is to drive out the waste from the automation process, so if I am able to squeeze out a small percent of that money, that becomes available to the programs the state should be funding," he said.

Those technology systems are necessary for delivering services, officials said. For example, Kentucky passed a law to change how licenses were issued, but the law could not go into effect for several months because the software had to be upgraded. "Everything we pass — or the majority — is dependent on a system that gets it out," Weaver said. "We have to put the money in the budget so that whatever bills we enact can be carried out logically, and that's IT."

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