Varn out as Iowa's CIO

Iowa Chief Information Officer Richard Varn and Gov. Tom Vilsack have parted ways as the state IT budget has suffered a 50 percent cut over the past two years.

In early November, Vilsack, a Democrat, asked for the resignation of his cabinet as part of a routine procedure to establish policy following his re-election as Iowa's governor. On Nov. 27, Vilsack announced he was accepting the resignations of Varn and five other department heads. He reappointed 12 other members of his cabinet to serve in his second term.

The governor appointed Debby O'Leary, Information Technology Department deputy director, to serve as interim department director following Varn's resignation.

"He was not going to be able to give me the resources I needed," Varn told Washington Technology. "I took the job understanding I would have the resources and authority to do the job properly. He failed to give me those two things in the last four years."

"There is no reason for us to have a thoroughbred CIO when we aren't going to do these things," Varn said Vilsack told him.

Varn's resignation after four years in the position follows a 50 percent reduction in the Iowa Information Technology Department's IT budget over the last two years, as well as a reduction in staffing by nearly one-third last year.

The Iowa Information Technology Department's budget is $2.9 million, Varn said. The department cut 80 employees last year, reducing its staff from 220 to 140.

Vilsack told state department heads that he wanted to focus on economic development, education and health care over the next four years.

Steep cuts in the Iowa state budget in fiscal 2003 forestalled a budget shortfall, but the state officials are projecting a budget shortfall of nearly $400 million in fiscal 2004, Varn said.

Varn, who will be paid through Jan. 2, said he is keeping his options open and will consider working in either the public or private sector, although he favors the latter.

Varn said he has a long list of achievements to his credit while serving as Iowa's CIO. Among these are:

*Helping establish the state Information Technology Department;

*Establishing a pooled technology fund and service model for state agencies;

*Creating an enterprise quality assurance office;

*Advancing an enterprise resource planning initiative;

*Redesign and redeployment of the state's portal;

*Adopting IT architecture standards and processes;

*Implementing various initiatives to improve IT services, including desktop computing, data warehousing, Web hosting, server management and storage area networks and devices.

Varn said a number of the state's key IT initiatives will continue, provided the requisite funding is available. He said he expects the state to proceed with its identity security and return on investment programs. Both programs are well-entrenched in the culture of the Information Technology Department, he said.

"I started with an organization that needed everything except the mainframe. We had no modern e-mail system, PC support system or Web system," Varn said. "In four years, we went from having nothing to having one of the better IT shops in the nation."

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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