Alabama's acting CIO wants permanent job

Paul Wharton began his job as Alabama assistant finance director on Jan. 24. Less than a week later, after state Finance Director Drayton Nabors found out that Wharton had once worked for IBM Corp., Nabors made him acting state chief information officer.

Since that time, Wharton has worked to blend the best technology achievements of past administrations with the latest approaches to information technology governance. In the process, he has stumbled on to what he describes as IT "buried treasures."

"I feel like an archeologist finding great diamonds that have been buried [and] other administrations have ignored," he said.

These are systems or procedures that were created to help government perform better that previous administrations let fall into disuse, he said. One such system is the Executive Management System, a Web-based system that produces financial reports. Another is a procedure used to help evaluate vendors' bids.

The latter has the potential to generate substantial savings for the state, he said. For example, if the procedure had been in place, it might have saved the state $3.5 million to $7 million of the approximately $20 million per year it spends on professional services.

Wharton plans to apply for the CIO job before the May 7 application deadline. The state plans to select a permanent CIO in June.

Wharton is one of about three acting CIOs from the batch of 17 new state CIOs that were appointed following the November 2002 elections, according to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. He spoke with Washington Technology during the NASCIO conference being held April 6-8 in Pittsburgh.

Wharton has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Northeastern University in Boston and a master's degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Buffalo. His past employment includes positions with IBM and Occidental Petroleum Corp. More recently, he has served as president and owner of 42nd Street Inc., a financial planning firm based in Birmingham, Ala.

As acting state CIO, Wharton is busy developing the state's first IT strategy, consolidating IT contracts and bringing more services online.

"[I'm] trying to put some things in place that will last long beyond my tenure," he said.

Wharton has high regard for the e-government work that Alabama Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of NIC of Overland Park, Kan., has done for the state. In February, the company shifted the sales of driver's records to insurance companies from a manual to an electronic process. The revenue from this transaction is expected to generate $750,000 for the Alabama Department of Public Safety over a 12-month period, he said. Each transaction will cost $7, with $5.50 going to Alabama and $1.50 from each sale going to the company.

"That buys a bunch of state trooper [positions]," Wharton said.

About the Author

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

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