Turnover increase hits the ranks of state CIOs

The increased financial scrutiny that many IT departments are facing isn’t limited to the private sector.

Since last August, the CIOs of at least five state governments have resigned. Some left to pursue corporate job opportunities or departed because another political party came into power. But the changing of the guard is a reflection of the intense pressures that public-sector CIOs are under to slash costs, said Jim Krouse, an analyst at Input, a Reston, Va.-based market research firm.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of turnover lately at the state CIO level,” Krouse said. CIOs “are under pressure to cut costs like department heads for other government agencies,” he added.

Robert Anderson, the outgoing CIO in New Hampshire, is a prime example. Anderson was tapped to fill the state’s top technology post last February by his former boss in the corporate world — Gov. Craig Benson, once the CEO of now-defunct Cabletron Systems Inc. But Anderson didn’t deliver US$11 million in expected savings in his first year, and he resigned in late January, on the day he was expected to present legislators with examples of his cost-cutting work.

A high-ranking Granite State IT official who requested anonymity said he thinks Anderson “was set up to fail.” The CIO “was heading in the right direction,” the official said. But, he added, a first-year savings goal of US$1 million would have been more realistic. The state’s IT budget is about US$39 million.

]State Sen. Dick Green, who chairs the legislature’s finance committee, said Benson and his budget director originally suggested that Anderson could chop US$20 million in IT costs during his first year on the job. But legislators viewed that proposal as “too optimistic” and substituted the US$11 million goal, Green said.

The targeted cost savings “haven’t materialized, and we kept the accountability pressure on him,” Green said, referring to Anderson. “I think he was trying, but he wasn’t able to give us any concrete evidence that this was being accomplished.”

Anderson couldn’t be reached for comment last week. A spokesman for Benson said the US$11 million cost-cutting figure surfaced after the legislature began reviewing the governor’s budget proposal for the current fiscal year. He added that Benson “was very pleased with the work (Anderson) did,” pointing to the former CIO’s efforts to consolidate 300-plus IT workers at nine state agencies into a single unit.

Anderson isn’t the only state IT chief who has felt the heat. On Feb. 4, Kimberly Bahrami announced that she would resign as Florida’s CIO at the end of next week.

Bahrami was named CIO in July 2002, after holding the job on an acting basis for a year. But Florida’s IT organization has come under fire from legislators and government watchdogs regarding US$150 million in multiyear contracts. Some officials say the contract language is vague and could put the state at financial risk.

“It’s been a major concern among legislators about how we got into some of these contracts and whether we’ll be able to recoup some of the costs if any of these systems fail,” said state Sen. Walter G. “Skip” Campbell, who chairs the state’s Democratic caucus.

Bahrami didn’t return calls seeking comment. Carla Gaskin, a spokeswoman for the Florida Office of Information Technology, confirmed that there have been audits of IT contracts but said that she thinks all of the contracts in question were awarded prior to Bahrami’s tenure as CIO. Gaskin added that Bahrami is leaving the job “by her choice.”

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