States CIOs Talk Transparency

Two words are reverberating around the halls of the Marriott in Baltimore this week where state CIOs are meeting: Transparency and recovery act money. Okay, ...
by | May 1, 2009

Two words are reverberating around the halls of the Marriott in Baltimore this week where state CIOs are meeting: Transparency and recovery act money.

Okay, that's four words, but two concepts. Still, one thing is clear: There's a fire under the feet of state IT officials and governors, who have to figure out a whole lot about the stimulus package.

First they've got to figure out how to pull federal money in -- $280 billion of which is for state and local governments. Then they've got to spend it. But they also must follow guidelines on reporting how they've spent it, using rules that haven't been created yet. And they must be transparent about how they're spending it. And get all this done in less than two years, because 75 days have already passed since the two-year time frame was set. No problem, right?

And what about the 50 state transparency Web sites that have been thrown up on the recovery.gov? The ones that are supposed to track every dollar of the federal stimulus money? They leave something to be desired. "There's enormous unevenness from state to state," said Gary Bass, founder and director of OMB Watch at a session on transparency at the mid-year meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. "Even in the good states, even in the best of Web sites, you're not there yet."

No one's arguing with him. The CIOs plan to make incremental improvements as best they can. They didn't expect to launch the perfect Web site, first try.

After all, think about the challenges in this endeavor, pointed out Ken Theis, Michigan's CIO.

Michigan, for example, supports thousands of legacy systems, many of which are stovepiped. The CIO must transform all those to an enterprise system, from systems built in an analog world that don't have enough capacity. And, he must get those systems to talk to each other. And figure out how the state can talk to "sub recipients," that is, localities and others that receive some recovery money. Without any funding to do so. And he's got five months before the first reporting deadline comes up in October.

And when all is said and done, is that data any good? In his case, he's looking at data from accounting systems built in the 60s and 70s. "The challenges are real," he said.

It's been frustrating, Theis conceded. But it's the opportunity of a lifetime for CIOs, who have talked about elevating themselves to the "front table." This is the initiative that's going to put the CIOs there," he said. "Whether you want a seat at the table or not, you're going to get it."

Alka Seltzer, anyone?

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman  |  Former columnist
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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