Top officials mum on information officer’s departure

The Department of Administrative Services data center. Administrators and legislators say next CIO will face challenges updating state's aging technology.

SALEM — Top officials, including the governor, are mum about the reasons behind the recently-announced resignation of Alex Pettit, the state’s chief information officer.

But some say they want the next CIO to be someone who is collaborative, communicative and has a clear vision of how to meet the state’s wide-ranging information technology needs.

Pettit, who has held the position since 2014, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

He was hired by former Gov. John Kitzhaber in the wake of a failed project to set up a statewide health insurance exchange, known as Cover Oregon.

Since then, several state technology projects have also stumbled, including an overhaul of the state’s phone system and a project to improve how the state determines eligibility for Medicaid.

In his April 6 resignation letter, though, Pettit touted his office’s work on the aftermath of Cover Oregon and other information technology projects.

An initial press release Friday said that Gov. Kate Brown and Pettit “mutually agreed that after his service stabilizing several technology challenges for Oregon state agencies and partner jurisdictions, the time is right for a new CIO to be put in place to build on his work and move the governor’s vision for IT governance forward.”

The Governor’s Office declined to comment further on Pettit’s resignation Tuesday.

Katy Coba, the state’s chief operating officer, said Tuesday that she could not comment as to what precipitated Pettit’s departure.

But she said the state’s next CIO should be able to build relationships across the many state agencies that require information technology services.

And, she said, a good state CIO also should be able to communicate effectively about the state’s vision for information technology, the “road map” for how to get there, and how state agencies can play a role in achieving those goals.

“Neither of those is easy to do,” Coba said.

The state has “a bunch” of aging legacy information technology systems, Coba said, such as the state’s 30-year-old human resources system, that a new CIO will have to contend with.

“There is no easy way to change, to modernize, a legacy system,” Coba said. “And so it’s one of those things that you just have to get in and grind, and I think you need to set an expectation that there are going to be challenges along the way. I don’t know that we’ve done a very good job of setting those expectations, because the private sector has the same challenges with IT systems. It’s not unique to Oregon state government.”

State Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, who sits on the legislature’s Joint Committee on Information Management and Technology, said she’d like to see the next CIO be a “well-rounded problem solver, administrator, collaborator, and visionary” who can implement the Legislature’s recent directives.

“The Legislature has passed several bills over the past few years to tighten up contracting for IT, beef up IT security, and create a structure that provides state agencies with the system-wide technology support and direction — whether it’s databases, mapping, telephones or the thousands of individual devices used by all the agencies like Fish and Wildlife, Corrections and Transportation,” Nathanson said in a written statement to the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau. “I’d be looking for someone to implement what the Legislature has put into statute to ensure appropriate, cost-effective technologies to support state programs.”

State Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, who also sits on the Joint Information Management and Technology Committee, said he was “deeply concerned” about Pettit’s departure and the systems Pettit will leave behind.

“I’m concerned about the computer systems in the state of Oregon,” DeBoer said, citing the problems with information technology at the Oregon Health Authority as one example. “...It’s very public how many millions we lost...Dr. Pettit was my hope to fix this.”

He also sees the latest departure as part of a pattern.

“The key to management is to hire the right person and let them do the job,” DeBoer said. “Certainly, trust and verify. But the lack of retention we have with directors is somewhat scary to me.”

Pettit’s resignation is effective June 1, but his resignation letter says he will wrap up his work for the state this month and start using accrued vacation time May 1.


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