'We need to change the conversation'

Meet Matt Miszewski

Chief information officer of Wisconsin
NASCIO president, 2005-2006

His agenda:

  • Target federal agency secretaries instead of congressmen as a source of funding for future projects

  • Push service improvements as rationale for IT projects, not just cost containment

  • Reduce government waste

  • Promote health IT
  • Matt Miszewski

    David Nevala/Special to Washington Technology

    Miszewski vows fresh approach in how state CIOs talk to the feds

    His enthusiasm is palpable. His ideas are big and bold. His peers say he'll get things done. Meet Matt Miszewski, Wisconsin's chief information officer and the new president of the National Association of State CIOs.

    With a vow to "blow things up," Miszew-ski last month took over the organization, bringing with him an agenda that includes changing how state CIOs lobby the federal government.

    "We're done trying to convince individual members of Congress to understand what we're doing and what we need to have happen," he said in an interview after NASCIO's annual conference, held Oct. 16-19 in San Diego. "We're going to take it instead to the federal agencies and the secretaries of those agencies."

    State CIOs are frustrated by federal government mandates that want states to embrace sharing services while the federal government fails to heed its own message, Miszewski said. Ongoing problems with sharing criminal justice information across federal, state and local government is just one example, he said.

    Miszewski, who was vice president of the Lexington, Ky., association for the past year, succeeded Delaware CIO Tom Jarrett as president last month. Jarrett praised Miszewski as an independent thinker and someone who understands the connection between CIOs and the federal government.

    "He comes into the job with a tremendous amount of passion and a great sense of new ideas," Jarrett said. "He's very much of an out-of-the-box thinker."

    Untangling funding is another key part of NASCIO's new plan, and something Miszewski said agency heads could help with.

    "We've got huge charges put on our shoulders at the state level to make sure we provide information in a seamless manner to the federal government," he said. "We can only do that if they take care of some of the problems we've had in terms of co-mingling funds, so that we can develop systems across the enterprise to share that information."

    For several years, NASCIO has been advocating cost containment strategies, and states have sought to trim budgets wherever they can. But part of the new discourse that NASCIO must have with the federal government revolves around new ways of looking at IT, Miszewski said. The association must train its members to talk about how IT projects improve services, not just save money, he said.

    "We need to change the conversation over the next year so that CIOs can talk about building value within the government space, so that IT is not simply a cost center for governors and state budget directors, but a place that adds value to the good work of government," he said.

    Among the pressing issues that state CIOs face are an aging workforce, open standards and the Real ID Act.

    Many state IT workers are approaching retirement, fueling the expectation that more government jobs will be outsourced to the private sector. Market research firm Input Inc. of Reston, Va., reports that IT outsourcing will grow at a compound annual growth rate from $11.1 billion this year to $17.7 billion in 2009.

    But Miszewski does not foresee outsourcing of all the jobs. A hiring bubble was created during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, and many of those unfilled positions will remain unfilled. Other jobs may be outsourced, but most will be kept inside state governments, Miszewski said. The positions are unlikely to be filled with younger workers, he said, but rather with experienced programmers in their 40s.

    Miszewski also thinks more state CIOs will follow Massachusetts down the path of open-standards software. In September, Massachusetts officially mandated that state departments use only nonproprietary document formats.

    "Hopefully, we'll be able to bring industry players to the plate to have an open discussion about what this format deal needs to look like," Miszewski said.

    And the elephant in the office of every state CIO is the Real ID Act, which mandates that by 2008, state-issued IDs meet national standards. The Homeland Security Department is working on the standards and has said it will coordinate with states before issuing a final rule, but so far no meetings have been held.

    The effort to comply with the Real ID Act eventually will translate into opportunities for biometrics and security companies as well as systems integrators, according to analysts and industry observers.

    Miszewski is less worried about the technical aspects of Real ID than with the potential costs. In some states, officials estimate it will cost between $50 million and $100 million a year to implement.

    "We understand the benefit, we understand the concerns as well. But we have a deeper concern about how we are going to pay for all this," Miszewski said.

    Staff Writer Ethan Butterfield can be reached at ebutterfield@postnewsweektech.com.

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