Note to Brown: Don’t ignore technology in government reorganization

I read with interest the Bee’s recent Viewpoints: Brown seeks to straighten out government jumble, Jun. 17, 2012, by my former Wilson Administration colleague Joanne Kozberg and California Business Roundtable veteran, Bill Hauck touting Governor Brown’s government reorganization plan.

I’m normally skeptical about government reorganization plans which identify no specific cost savings. After all, the Governor’s rationale and the article’s primary argument are that the reorg will make government more efficient. However, I am realistic enough to know that if Brown’s plan did specify cost savings through government efficiencies it would necessarily mean cuts in state personnel, which of course is a non-starter with the state employee union leaders who control the state legislature. Can you imagine Steinberg, Perez et al approving a plan which reduces state employment, the mandatory union dues, and therefore less union campaign donations? Either can I. And of course I remember that Governor Schwarzenegger’s reorg plan three years ago to consolidate the state’s two primary data centers, affecting nearly 1,000 employees, was submitted to the legislature with the lofty goal of eliminating two positions.

Notwithstanding these concerns, a consolidated, more efficient and rational government organizational bureaucracy would indeed be an improvement as the Kozberg/Hauck article maintains; but with one notable exception.

Included in Brown’s plan is the downgrading of the Cabinet-level California Technology Agency, and its consolidation into a new Operations Agency along with other “administrative services programs” like procurement, fleet operations and administrative law – hardly a grouping of the state’s strategic arsenal for reinventing and rightsizing government.

Thus, it’s troubling that the government, especially in the State of California would look upon its IT investment as simply other “administrative services” in the first place. The Technology Agency oversees $3-4 billion in annual spending plus an overall IT project portfolio of another $6 billion. The new Department of technology will be ten times larger than all these other Operations Agency departments combined.

In May 2012, the usually rationale Little Hoover Commission did an about face by approving the Technology Agency downgrade after originally approving the Schwarzenegger Administration’s reorg plan establishing Agency’s cabinet status just four years ago. At that time, and in the past, the Commission has asked, “How can the State of California, home to Silicon Valley, use technology more effectively”.

It is no small coincidence that the preponderance of recent problematic technology projects in the news share one common link: the $1.3 billion courts case management System; CalPERS $500 million computer system modernization; the Controller’s woeful, decade long, $350 million 21st Century payroll project (commonly referred to as the 22nd Century due to its implementation delays). Each one of these IT projects is outside the purview of the Technology Agency, as non-executive or constitutional offices. At a time when the Technology Agency should have greater authority over all state IT spending, this Administration wants to reverse it.

It had taken the State and three Administrations a decade and a half to organize, empower and centralize state IT operations, from what began as a small policy making office with just a few dozen staff when I was the first state CIO, loosely overseeing a decentralized State IT leviathan.  Created in 2010, the new California Technology Agency now directly oversees a consolidated operation with a workforce of a thousand employees and controls virtually every aspect of state IT spending for all 130 state departments. The Brown Administration inherited perhaps the strongest CIO governance model among all state governments in the U.S., and perhaps federal sector as well. The kind of organization whereby significant and far-reaching IT enabled efficiencies can now be thrust upon government operations at all levels.

This is hardly the time to roll back the clock. In Governor Brown’s State of the State (in January 2012), he had barely begun when he highlighted the fact that California was the birthplace and home of Apple, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, QUALCOMM, Twitter and countless other creative companies. I suggest he query these CEO’s about the role technology plays in their organizations and whether their chief information officers have a seat on their executive leadership council. I think we all know the answer he would get.

It may be too late, as the reorganization will take place in just a few weeks unless the legislature opposes it, which has a zero chance of happening. However, making lemonade from lemons, Governor Brown still needs a Cabinet Secretary for the new Operations Agency, and the state’s multi-billion dollar technology investment requires a strong chief information officer with a seat at the table with the Governor’s Cabinet team. The current state CIO and Tech Agency Secretary, Carlos Ramos, sounds like the perfect candidate and the best of both worlds.

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