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Concerns raised as Little Hoover Commission hears comment on Governor’s Tech Agency Reorg Plan

The Little Hoover Commission on Tuesday heard public comment on a portion of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Reorganization Plan that would make the Technology Agency a department under a new Government Operations Agency, removing the state CIO’s position as a member of the governor’s cabinet.

Technology industry leaders raised concerns at the meeting, arguing that the state CIO must maintain its current cabinet-level status for effective operation of the role. Carol Henton, Vice President of TechAmerica, which represents private industry and the majority of private vendors who work with state, local and federal government, argued against the reorganization.

"We believe that this move will lead to negative and unintended consequences," Henton said on Tuesday. "It will be more siloing of IT, not less. More inefficiency and cost, not less, and more bureaucracy and red tape, not less. We think that in this modern technologically driven world, what’s needed is a strong, cabinet-level agency lead by a visionary CIO. Someone who can have the full statutory authority to cut through the red tape, pull in other senior officials, [and] develop and implement a strategic vision for IT for the state."

April 24, 2012 - TechAmerica VP Carol Henton testifies in the Little Hoover Commission hearing

Henton described the change in cabinet-level status as a "step backwards," arguing that stature matters, even if the CIO’s responsibilities remain the same.

Commenting in favor of the change, current CIO and Agency Secretary Carlos Ramos heralded the new plan as an opportunity for increased collaboration for the Technology Agency, which would remain in tact in its organization and operations under the new Government Operations Agency, he said.

"As I see it, there are significant advantages in having us collocated and working in a more collaborative and in tighter alignment with the other agencies that would be part of Government Operations," Ramos said.

Ramos said the Technology Agency would be placed with departments that could assist in the procurement process, which can be complicated and produce "not great results."

"So having the technology policy, procurement policy and the procurement execution all within the same agency I think offers great advantage," Ramos said.

Ramos downplayed the concern that the state CIO would lose the position’s current authority and cabinet-level status, an argument against the Reorganization Plan raised by critics that the Commission described as a perception that the agency is being "downgraded."

"The authority to hold folks accountable, the authority to have an impact on the technology portfolio of the state, [it] isn’t related to a title," he said. "What it’s related to is what authority you have. What actions do you [take]? How do you engage with the different technology initiatives of the state? So what I would say is the reorg proposal maintains all of our statutory authority that we have today."

The Agency would still provide technological support, oversight and policymaking and work as the "state’s and maybe the taxpayer’s watchdog on technology initiatives" under the plan, according to Ramos.

Former state CIO John Thomas Flynn was more confrontational in his testimony, urging the commission to seriously consider the consequences of the plan, which he called "absolutely crazy."

"These are serious problems," he said of large state IT projects that have recently failed or stalled. "It’s not a time to downgrade this agency’s responsibility. It’s time to give them more responsibility. It’s the state CIO. There should be no spending in state government from an IT basis that’s not under the jurisdiction of the state CIO."

Flynn, who said he worked as CIO without cabinet-level status, said the added power entrusted in the position and, therefore, the agency will allow technological advancement in the state.

"This is critically important to the way that government is going to function," Flynn said. "Ya it’s going to stumble, there’s huge projects, but this agency was finally empowered to get things done. And if you take a step back, it’s going to end up costing money."

Commissioner Tom Quinn, appointed by Governor Brown in February 2012, said in response to Flynn’s spirited comments that the plan was offered by the governor as a way to improve government efficiency. He contended the assumption that cabinet-level status is necessary, drawing on his own experience that "having a seat at the table provides very little."

"That isn’t what makes the world go round," Quinn said. "What makes the world go round here in Sacramento, I found, is having good ideas, working with people, listening, be open to new concepts and be willing to work with your colleagues. It isn’t really the title, it isn’t a position at the cabinet table."