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Gerry Wethington
Gerry Wethington
(Courtesy NASCIO)
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TechNews.com: Expanding Roles for State Chief Information Officers
Guest: Gerry Wethington, Missouri's Chief Information Officer and president of the National Association of State CIOs

Wednesday, May 7, 2003, 1 p.m. ET

Cynthia L. Webb
Cindy Webb

Gerry Wethington is in charge of leading the state of Missouri's information technology efforts, and as president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, he is working with all 50 states to improve how they acquire and use technology.

Wethington was online at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 7, to take your questions about the technology challenges facing state CIOs. Washingtonpost.com reporter Cynthia L. Webb moderated.

Check out TechNews.com's CIO Index all the week of May 5 for an exploration of the role of state CIOs.

About Wethington: Prior to his appointment as CIO of Missouri, Gerry Wethington worked with the Missouri State Highway Patrol for 25 years in a number of roles, including his most recent title as the director of the highway patrol's Information Systems Division. Wethington also serves as the chairman of SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Research and Statistics. He is the vice chair of the Global Justice Information Network Federal Advisory Commission.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Cynthia L. Webb: Good afternoon! We are about to get started with our Live Online chat with Gerry Wethington, Missouri's CIO and president of NASCIO. Thanks to all who have already submitted questions. Please keep your good questions rolling in. We will get started in just a few minutes.

Cynthia L. Webb: Gerry, thanks for joining us today to talk about challenges facing state CIOs. Can you start our discussion by explaining what you think is the most substantial hurdle facing state CIOs at this time? There seems to be a lot of grumbling among your peers about limitations of funding and resources.

Gerry Wethington: I believe all CIOs are facing issues related to budget. We're all being asked to be innovative in the application of technology and to invest wisely. I believe these challenges create opportunities for CIOs to begin to "virtually" restructure government. We don't have the resources to change the brick and mortar structure nor necessarily the organizational structure, but by looking at the business processes, looking for efficiencies to be gained and then applying information technology in innovative ways we can find ways to navigate these difficult economic times.

Many of the issues involve wise information technology investment, innovative application of technology, addressing business continuity in the government space, ensuring government operations are secure in cyberspace, addressing the information technology infrastructure of government to ensure that it is stable and will meet the needs of government and citizens.

Bethesda, Md.: Hi Gerry! Do you think all this doom and gloom in state and local budgets is going to hamper IT spending so much that it limits services to citizens? Or do you think IT will help the process of government by increasing efficiency? Thanks!

Gerry Wethington: I believe it will position government to look for ways to wisely invest in order to limit any service reductions. It may require citizens to look more to the web for service offerings but I believe that is a citizen expectation that has evolved over the past few years and with these tight economic times, governments will have to look for ways to be innovative, rely upon agencies to provide solutions that can be reused across government disciplines and by various layers of government, i.e., federal, state, county, municipal, and take advantage of what others have done in order reduce the time to market for digital government citizen service offerings.

If there is a delay or a limitation, it will be for government to adjust its thinking and operations approach to embrace these new practices. I believe we have been working on this for a while and therefore the delay should not be long.

Arlington, Va.: How closely are states interconnected? Will information technology weaknesses in other states affect me?

Gerry Wethington: State's interoperability varies depending upon the specific environment. Some disciplines, i.e., justice, health and human services, environmental protection, etc., are very capable of interoperability. Often times it's the information itself that is not consistent, that is when I reference an address that may mean something entirely different to someone else. States are now working on business architectures, information architectures and technology architectures. What that means is that now government is very serious about looking for common business practices and common information models so that we don't have to duplicate programs and so that citizens don't have to provide the same information multiple times to government. We're also working on solving technical difficulties in communicating which will help to facilitate the timely exchange of information.

Cynthia L. Webb: How should states and state CIOs better position themselves to get more federal IT funding?

Gerry Wethington: I don't know that it's solely a question of more funding, although that is needed. It is also a question of effectively leveraging the funds received today. CIO can work with cabinet members to help them understand how to leverage their funds across disciplines to minimize the expenditure of funds for duplicate items and programs. If we could influence the federal grant and federal appropriation guidelines to provide States with flexibility to invest those funds in the most effective manner possible it would help tremendously.

Springfield, Ill.: Are you aware of any state(s) that either have a "Best Practice" policy or can serve as a model for identifying and funding innovative IT solutions with the state? We are looking for a better way to facilitate communication and collaboration between state agencies and the various decision makers that provide funding and project approvals.

Gerry Wethington: Building a business case for information technology investments has been gaining momentum recently. I believe it is a combination of building sustainable business cases and looking for innovative funding approaches. It may be that we need to develop a track record for sound business cases and then those with appropriation authority will be willing to look at non-traditional funding approaches.

NASCIO has developed a guide for developing sound business cases. We're also beginning to look at innovative funding to determine what types of approaches have been effective and what it will take in state legislatures to effect change in the current appropriation processes.

Arlington, Va.: How much are states learning from federal agencies about implementing technology to aid citizens? Do you think states are leading or following the federal government?

Gerry Wethington: I believe this has become a collaborative effort. State CIOs are working with Mark Forman and OMB on very specific projects. While we may have started by looking at federal models only, I believe now that through these collaborative efforts we are now realizing that in some areas the federal government is offering quality solutions that can be replicated in the states. Likewise we are now beginning to find quality solutions in the states that can be utilized at the federal level. It's not about the technology necessarily anymore. It's about leveraging business decisions and getting over the "not invented here" syndrome. Frankly, I can't wait to develop every solution myself anymore and have to have trust and confidence in others who are developing what they are "uniquely" qualified to deliver. I have to be willing to reuse what has been proven successful, regardless of whether it originated at the federal level, state level or local level.

Springfield, Ill.: Gerry - What initiatives does NASCIO have planned for the next year that can help state CIO's to be more productive in these challenging (i.e., budget and resource constrained) times?

Gerry Wethington: NASCIO will be working on the areas of innovative funding, attempting to influence how federal funds are appropriated to the States, looking for ways that solution reuse can be effective for the states. We're also working on mentoring programs where CIOs who have been through this before can offer insight to those new to the field. We're also collaborating with the National Governor's Association on how CIOs can best help the governors through these difficult times to ensure that when we take on an issue it is one that is important and will make a difference.

We're also very interested in extending our reach to county and municipal governments because we realize that state solutions often affect local government and we want to make sure that we're addressing issues as comprehensively as possible so that we can get the most out of those decisions and ultimately solutions.

Nampa, Idaho: Have you seen a change in the way federal funding to the states has been approached since the state CIOs have been going to Washington D.C.? Specifically, I'm referring to where the funding goes versus allowing the pooling of funds to provide an enterprise solution across agencies and departments.

Gerry Wethington: I don't know that I've seen significant change yet. I do believe there is now a dialog where one didn't exist previously. I believe federal fund recipients have to be given the opportunity to invest those funds received in a manner that allows them produced the greatest results. CIOs don't have to be accountants but I believe we certainly have to be investment advisors when it comes to the application of and investment in information technology.

Chicago: What's your perspective about states receiving 20 percent of the funding and 80 percent going to the local level? Do you feel this is appropriate? If not, what is the recommendation from the state CIOs?

Gerry Wethington: The split in funds will always be an element of the debate. I think a more important perspective however is that regardless of the % of funds received, the recipient should be asked to articulate their knowledge of their state's overall integration plan and further how their plans fits within the overall plan. If we'll spend some time becoming intimately familiar with integration, inter-operability and information sharing plans, then we can make wise investments and effectively work toward common goals.

Alexandria, Va.: Is NASCIO working with the National League of Cities, National Assn. of Counties etc. to reach out to local governments on IT matters?

Gerry Wethington: NASCIO has been engaged in conversations with those organizations and is looking for ways to improve the collaboration. It is an item on the current agenda and will be an area where we maintain focus in the future.

Mount Airy, Md.: It is known that the largest of city and county IT departments are looking to modernize their existing IT systems for increased efficiency of government services. This includes simplifying complexity for Biz2Gov and Gov2Gov integration efforts, and to reduce IT maintenance costs. Some State/Local IT shops are known to be adopting XML and Web Services. Are you aware of any such early adopters and their successes?

Gerry Wethington: XML and Web Services are rapidly being adopted. Some very important work in the area of standards in the XML area has been underway for some time in a number of government disciplines. The Web Services area is equally important and the expansion of interest in enterprise architecture should help in driving standards in this area. I'm most familiar with the successes in Justice in the XML area because of my work with the Global Justice Information Sharing initiative and know that it has had a very positive effect in a number of states.

Annandale, Va.: A good deal of the Homeland Security Department's mission involves reaching out to and sharing information with state and local governments. What sense do you get that the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security are making that effort? What are the roadblocks to more effective and timely info sharing?

Gerry Wethington: I believe they have made some efforts to reach out. As they put organizational issues to rest and can focus on real business issues I believe we'll see more results. NASCIO and the NGA are working with them in the areas of information sharing and in the areas of architecture. As we continue that dialog I believe we'll see opportunities for better collaboration and actually begin to see real solutions implemented. From a roadblocks perspective, we've been conditioned with 30 and 40 year old government structures and now we're asked to change at a rate commensurate with the information age. That will take a little time, but I'm seeing progress. I believe all involved realize we have to very quickly produce results.

Springfield, Ill.: Do you have any thoughts on how to actively promote true collaboration between various government agencies? It seems that communication or perhaps the knowledge of related projects is key, however we have found that even when two agencies want to collaborate, that existing policies and our respective legal staffs still present a significant barrier.

Gerry Wethington: I think getting to the table is important. Once there we have to look at business cases for collaboration and with respect to existing policies and legal hurdles I think we have to ask a new set of questions. Are the legal barriers in any of the following categories:

Statutory are regulatory with specific permissive or prohibitive language
Statutory or regulatory with agency interpretation of permissive of prohibitive language
Agency policy
The way we've always done it (folklore)

If we get specific as to the barriers, I believe we can make progress. We also have to be willing to recognize and admit that business in the information age isn't the same as business in the industrial age. We need creative thinkers bringing fresh ideas.

Alexandria, Va.: Hello! By way of background (and few people would be able to figure this out), I was the first individual in the federal government officially designated a CIO (as opposed to a SIRMO or Senior Information Resource Management Officer) back in the early 1990s. At that time, the only reason I was appointed was that my agency head came from the corporate sector and asked: "Who's my CIO?" At that time, he was clear what he was looking for -- someone who actually managed the asset called information, and not a technology wonk. Since that time, the federal government has always remained several steps behind what is occurring in the commercial sector in terms of understanding and deploying these strategic assets known as information. The commercial sector where I now work has since departed from the notion of the CIO as being the critical information resource manager and moving to the Chief Knowledge Officer, which in our minds is dramatically more important to value added to the enterprise than the CIO. What is your perception of the environment in which CIOs function at the state and local levels of government --and how far have they come to engaging in establishing the role of CKO?

Gerry Wethington: I think considerable progress has been made. Watch the agendas for NASCIO conferences and NGA meetings. Not often will you see a technology track. Technology is now expected to be embedded within the fabric of government business operations. The CIO is now looked to as someone who offers advice and council in the area of business practices, business relationships, innovation and then technology application. I spend more time looking at business continuity, innovative funding, common business practices, electronic records management and digital government than I do on technical solution development. I believe that is true in nearly every state.

We may have started as technologists, but I believe the value proposition is now one of being a trusted advisor in those business areas now critical to government operations.

Harrisburg, Penn.: This question is in regards to your work on judicial statistics. There is, to me, a surprising lack of data about criminal court cases where the defendant is found innocent. This is not your fault: it seems very few people track or are interested in these cases once they are over. Yet, it would be useful to learn some post-judicial research involving these cases, such as how many involved difficulties with evidence, prosecution, police investigations, etc. Is there any movement to better study these cases?

Cynthia L. Webb: This reader's question seems to get at how well justice data is tracked in general. I understand NASCIO is working with the Justice Department and others to help develop a better tracking template for states to use. Can you explain a bit more about this?

Gerry Wethington: I'm not aware of any specific study in this area. One limiting factor may be closed record laws. In some states once a subject is found innocent the case is closed and not available for dissemination. Therefore, the cases are not available to distribution and/or disclosure.

This would be a good question to submit to SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Research and Statistics. www.SEARCH.org

Cynthia L. Webb: Gerry is staying with us for extra minutes to take some more questions. Thanks, Gerry. And thanks, readers, for tuning in today and for your thoughtful questions.

Tallahassee, Fla.: What new information technology projects do you foresee Missouri working towards in the near future?

Gerry Wethington: We're interested in leveraging our network investments, utilizing technology to reduce the "time to market" for state solutions, managing our web content effectively, managing our enterprise architecture artifacts in an architecture repository and moving technology as close to the source of data a possible.

Baltimore: Is it possible for the states to pool purchasing power with the feds on certain IT acquisitions?

Gerry Wethington: Under the E-government Act of 2002, the states can utilize GSA schedules. For a variety of reasons, states have found that doesn't always result in the most competitive prices once all factors are considered. I believe as we continue to collaborate on common solutions that then we will find ways in which solution collaboration will also result in government purchasing power advantages. It may take procurement changes but we should walk away from that challenge.

Cynthia L. Webb: Gerry, you mentioned in regards to working around funding gaps that it is important for CIOs to look for areas where efficiencies can be spotted and improved. Any examples you can give from your work as Missouri's CIO?

Gerry Wethington: I believe we've found efficiencies in our Commercial 1 Stop program, our Public Service Commission has created a new means for public utilities to file more efficiently, what we're doing with starting and registering a business is exciting and our Department of Natural Resources is now offering on-line reservations for state parks. These are great starts for Missouri and more is planned.

Thanks for the opportunity to participate and thanks to your readers for their interest.

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