How the Election Really Matters: Its Effect On Government IT

3 min read
  • Government
  • Information Technology

Change is in the air following last week’s midterm election results—but the shake-up isn’t confined to politics. The tech sector will feel the ripple effect as new state leaders take their seats, laws around municipal broadband Internet networks are considered and the net neutrality debate heats up.  

Of course, the biggest changes will be felt by those who work in government IT. A number of state chief information officer (CIO) positions are likely to change hands due to new governors in at least ten states, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2010, for example—a similar midterm election—many newly elected governors brought in new CIOs as state IT became more of an issue, writes Dan Lohrmann in Governing.

The fact that governors in 36 states saw their terms end was a very big deal in the state technology community. Because, as David Stegon wrote in Statescoop, buy-in from the governor is important in executing state government IT projects. “Talk to a chief information officer in just about any state and the answer will be the same: Technology starts and ends with support from the governor’s mansion,” he wrote.

To be fair, the churn of state CIOs isn’t solely political. CIOs in Kansas, Delaware, and Arkansas left or announced their departure in the past few months, while Texas’ CIO is retiring at the end of the year, writes Government Technology. State CIO can be a rough position, agrees Pew, noting that the average tenure of a state CIO is only 32 months. This quick turnover is part of what keeps states from having as effective IT as the private sector, Pew writes.

Delaware’s CIO, for example, decided to leave his post even though the governor was re-elected, because he wanted to get back to the private sector, Pew writes. Moreover, some CIOs who come from the private sector get frustrated with the slow progress of state government. “For states, investment in IT often involves legislative signoffs and byzantine purchasing requirements not found in business,” Pew writes. “Applying IT to new or different ways of operating often meets resistance from a bureaucratic culture reluctant to change.”

In addition, CIOs and chief information security officers (CISOs) can typically earn a lot more money in the private sector compared with the public sector, from $250,000 to $500,000. While public service and the ability to help people may appeal to some people for a while, eventually many of them want to get back to making the big bucks. In the IT security sector, for example, 90 percent or respondents said that “insufficient salary” was a factor in not being able to attract good people, according to a recent National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) survey.

In other election results, high-speed Internet may soon be coming to the citizens of Colorado. State law required that cities hold a vote on whether they can offer municipal broadband and seven cities and counties, including Boulder, voted in favor of the measure. “The city of Boulder has roughly 100 miles of high-speed fiber-optic network at its disposal, but under most interpretations of state law, the city couldn't make that network available to the public unless voters gave the city an exemption,” writes Erica Meltzer in the Daily Camera. “City officials said they have no specific plans to expand the network, and they are most likely to do so in cooperation with a private partner, rather than going into the Internet business directly.”

Such votes in the other six Colorado regions—the towns of Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Wray and Yuma, as well as the counties of Rio Blanco and Yuma—all passed with 70 percent or more. Rio Blanco County is committing to spend $7 million to improve its broadband Internet.

Finally, the election is sure to prove influential on two issues before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):

  • First is the question of whether the FCC will continue to allow states to implement laws that prevent municipalities from setting up broadband Internet networks for citizens.
  • Second is the issue of net neutrality, which President Barack Obama announced this week that he supports.

While net neutrality was barely mentioned as an election issue, it has garnered a great deal of attention from people who are concerned that Internet service providers will start charging people for better performance for certain kinds of data. For example, “Some internet service providers would like to charge Netflix and/or customers more for using all that bandwidth; in the meantime, some may already be intentionally slowing down Netflix traffic to reduce bandwidth loads,” writes Philip Bump in the Washington Post.

Pundits speculate that President Obama waited until now to announce his support so it wouldn’t become a campaign issue in the midterm elections. 

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