The Center for Innovative Technology that was once the crown jewel of the state's Northern Virginia business program has no clear mission and should be completely reorganized, saving as much as $7 million annually, a commission on government efficiency said today.
Members of the commission, chaired by former governor L. Douglas Wilder, raised many of the criticisms that have dogged the center since its 1984 inception, saying that it has no defining purpose other than general goals of research, business incubation and assisting Virginia's high-technology sector.
"In its current form, it's not working," said John O. Wynne, a Hampton Roads business leader who led the commission's study on streamlining government.
Added Wilder, a Democrat who as governor tried to abolish the CIT in the early 1990s: "It has been a convolution forever. You can say something is innovative in technology -- that has not been the case there."
Reconstituting the center while preserving Virginia's role as a technology leader is one of several recommendations the Wilder commission said it will forward to Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). Warner created the panel earlier this year to find savings amid a deepening state budget crisis.
Commission members neared decisions on a host of other recommendations affecting the state bureaucracy, ranging from eliminating the lowly Milk Commission to the more complex and politically difficult privatization of state liquor stores.
Warner administration officials said the governor will incorporate a number of the commission's recommendations in the budget he will present to the General Assembly late next month. Warner will be proposing about $1 billion in cuts and savings, having already presided over the closing of a roughly $4.7 billion shortfall in the budget through other cuts, layoffs and consolidations.
"We're revisiting what it is that CIT does and what it should be doing," said Maurice A. Jones, Warner's emissary to the Wilder commission.
Peter Jobse, who joined CIT a month ago as executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the Herndon-based center has already gone through one intense reorganization and is poised to make additional staff and program changes to stay in business.
"While we recognize that we'll continually be under evaluation, we're being very proactive right now," Jobse said. "We have no plan right now to act as if we're going away."
In many ways, the Center for Innovative Technology is emblematic of the difficult choices facing Warner in the weeks ahead, as the former high-tech entrepreneur from Alexandria decides the fate of many long-running and politically sensitive programs, some of them dear to his own interests and agenda. The annual state budget is about $25 billion.
Launched by fellow Northern Virginian and former governor Charles S. Robb in the heyday of Democratic control over state politics, the center has survived two governors who wanted to kill it -- Wilder, during a recession, followed by his Republican successor, George Allen -- and endured criticism and staff upheavals.
Yet the state-chartered, nonprofit corporation always had friends in the General Assembly who approved its operating funds. For instance, Wilder noted today that he tried to eliminate CIT's money in his 1992 budget, to which commission colleague and former Democratic state senator Hunter B. Andrews retorted, "And I put it back!"
In recent years, the increasingly Republican legislature has begun to question the nearly $8 million that CIT receives from the state each year, and some allies of the center said they expect Warner to recommend at least some cuts, which GOP lawmakers will probably embrace in their 2003 session.
As the latest round of budget cuts hit this year, the center reduced its payroll from 50 employees to 35 -- 17 of them at headquarters and 18 in field offices across the state.
"We don't get a message from them that they want to pull it all back," Jobse said of the General Assembly and its annual appropriation. Wynne said some of the savings that could come from restructuring the center could be illusory, because the center has piled up significant debt over the years.
"It would not free up much money," Wynne said.