US state CIO set to quit over funding bill

Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez last week submitted his resignation, saying a lack of legislative action on a bond bill needed to fund planned projects has left him to preside over “the dismantling” of the state’s IT investment program.

Gutierrez, who became the state’s CIO for the second time last February, was expected to leave early next year after a new administration takes office. But he now plans to give up his job effective Nov. 2. He wrote in his resignation letter that he has “no remaining expectation” that the state legislature will act quickly on the bond bill “and no continued appetite to watch the IT investment program lapse.”

Gutierrez declined to comment beyond the resignation letter and a separate note that he sent to staffers at the Massachusetts Information Technology Division. However, Gov. Mitt Romney’s office released a list of 12 IT projects that it said already have been or soon will be affected by the impasse on the bond bill.

For example, the state last week suspended an effort to design and build a new backup data center, according to the document. In August, the IT division halted procurement and development activities on new systems for processing taxes and unemployment insurance, a new telecommunications system for its health and human services agency, and an upgrade of a data reporting application used by sheriffs’ offices. It also laid off 22 contractors who had been working on the system for the sheriffs’ offices and four who were involved in a data warehouse project.

The document indicated that more cutbacks will be made this month and that further staffing reductions and project stoppages will be put into effect in late December if the bond bill still hasn’t been approved.

Gutierrez wrote in his resignation letter that IT innovation within the state government “ran out of steam in August,” when the legislature ended its formal session for the year without taking action on the bill. The leaders of the state house and senate have discussed the idea of reconvening in a special session to consider the bill, but they have yet to set a date.

In his letter, Gutierrez wrote that he has been clear with other officials that ongoing IT operations “are not presently generally at risk, in order to avoid false alarm.” But he added that the shutdown of new projects will impose “real costs” on agencies and may jeopardize federal reimbursements and damage the state’s credibility with IT vendors.

Morale within the IT division will also need to be shored up, according to Gutierrez. “There is damage to morale, and a sense that IT does not matter, or does not matter enough to obtain adequate financing,” he wrote.

“The legislature’s failure to act on the bond bill has been demoralizing for everyone,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Romney. Gutierrez no longer felt he could adequately do his job without funding support from the legislature, Fehrnstrom said.

He added that the resignation of Gutierrez will have no effect on the state’s plan to adopt the Open Document Format for Office Applications within its executive branch agencies. Gutierrez announced in August that state agencies would continue using their Microsoft Office applications but by Jan. 1 would start to add plug-in software designed to let Office users create and save files in OpenDocument.

Gutierrez took over as CIO from Peter Quinn, one of the architects of the OpenDocument policy. Ironically, Quinn, who resigned last December, said in an interview in March that he did so partly because of issues involving the bond bill. Quinn said a plan to report the bill to the legislature without its IT funding provisions convinced him that he “had become a lightning rod for a great deal of opposition” to the OpenDocument plan.

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