State CIOs chat up federal lawmakers

Eighteen state CIOs came to Washington last week to meet with Congress for two whirlwind days as part of the third annual fly-in sponsored by the National Association of State CIOs.

The CIOs held 73 meetings with senators and representatives in a single day, said Gerry Wethington, NASCIO president and Missouri CIO. They talked with lawmakers about cybersecurity, homeland security, interoperability, spam and identity theft.

Wethington presented NASCIO's first Technology Champion award to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) at a luncheon Friday in the Rayburn House Office Building. NASCIO established the award to recognize an individual for outstanding contributions in the field of IT policy.

Accepting the award, Davis said that he has been working on several federal IT initiatives, including Freedom of Information Act reforms. Davis said he was alarmed because 'we found General Accounting Office reports in caves in Afghanistan.'

Davis said that he and fellow Virginian George Newstrom, the state's CIO, were both members of 'the digital party. This is the party that understands the world is changing, the economy is changing and the government needs to keep up.'

The word cybersecurity kept buzzing around the lunch table as the CIOs gave their perspectives on the two days on Capitol Hill.

'Everyone talks about cybersecurity, but no one knows what it means,' Newstrom said. 'It's like the Year 2000 issue was in 1995. People just knew it was there, looming.'

Newstrom bemoaned the security holes that still abound in government offices, 'like the Post-It notes next to the computer. If you tell people, 'That's like you left your purse on your car dashboard,' then they get it.' But too often IT departments speak in hieroglyphics, he said.

'Cybersecurity it not just hardware and software,' Kentucky CIO Aldona Valicenti said. 'It's much more policy and training.'

Valicenti also said that the fly-in gave the CIOs a chance to impress the congressional team with the importance of establishing an enterprise architecture to promote data sharing.

'I kept hearing folks preface their remarks with 'Don't worry, I'm not a lobbyist,' like that's a bad thing,' Wisconsin CIO Matt Miszewski said.

That 'we didn't come here with our hands out, asking for money' and were instead offering NASCIO as a resource made the congressional staff more receptive to them, Miszewski said.

Nevada CIO Terry Savage said his goal was to get each congressman he met to remember one issue. Savage, who is on the Homeland Security Commission in Nevada, said he made real progress on encouraging the development of an interoperable radio frequency for first responders in Nevada.

The CIOs agreed that meeting with Congress improved their dialogue with Congress. 'I got two e-mails this morning from congressional people,' Delaware CIO Tom Jarrett said. 'I'll probably be bombarded, but I'd rather have the dialogue than not.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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