Former Homeland Security Chief To State CIOs: Break Down Fed Funding Silos

Ridge, now president and CEO of his own consulting company, Ridge Global noted that the incoming administration next year is not likely to budget more IT spending to states given the current economic crisis. But he said state CIOs need to lobby for more flexibility in how IT dollars are spent in order to maximize the investment. "The dollars that you get from the federal government are in many instances siloed," he said. "Your advocacy has to be that Washington must give you more flexibility in how you spend that money."

He said that federal IT money designated to build a new platform for a specific application could easily be used for other IT applications but that government rules often prevent that. "You need greater flexibility. Washington needs to trust you," he said.

John McCoy, a State of Washington Representative and chairman of the state's technology committee agreed that government needs to give state CIOs more discretion in how IT dollars are spent. "We need to trust state CIOs. Give them direction and then get the hell out of the way," he said.

Ridge told state CIOs to look for IT champions on both sides of the aisle in Washington to help push a new IT agenda that includes changing how Congress and the new administration view technology. "The backbone of IT drives everything in this country. The security of IT is a national mission and states need to be included in the funding stream. States are the first responders for IT security," he said.

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Gerry Weaver, Indiana's CIO, said the best IT champion to have is the chief executive. "Our biggest advocate is the governor," he said. "When he came into office in 2005 the state was $1.5 billion in the red. He gave us the directive to improve service and reduce costs."

In the past three years, Indiana has consolidated its data centers from 5 down to one, standardized agency e-mail systems reducing the number of e-mail servers from 107 down to 16 and decommissioned over 800 servers.

Weaver said support from the governor gave him the clout needed to enact a "benevolent dictatorship" necessary to get the job done quickly.

Ridge addressed CIOs from 44 states in his keynote at the NASCIO conference, the theme of which is driving efficiency and innovation in state IT environments.

Ridge told the CIOs that he gives himself high marks in improving national security during his tenure as the first Secretary of Homeland Security, notably in improvements in airport security. "I've been targeted for secondary airport security screening over two dozen times," he confessed.