State CIOs Want Federal Agencies to Get Out of Their Way

Natalia Bratslavsky/

NASCIO’s advocacy priorities cite duplicative and conflicting security regulations and audits as a waste of time and money.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers released its 2018 federal advocacy priorities on Thursday. In a nutshell? Let state governments innovate, optimize, save money and serve their state’s residents without significant federal burdens—and let’s be sure to share information efficiently and effectively along the way.

Chief among their priorities is reducing the federal burden of conflicting security regulations from various federal agencies and programs.

In releasing the organization’s 2018 priorities, NASCIO President and Oklahoma CIO Bo Reese said: "State CIOs continue to seek efficiencies within state government through efforts like IT consolidation/optimization, which for my state has reaped over $351 million in savings and IT cost avoidance. However, voluminous and conflicting federal cybersecurity regulations often pose a challenge in our ability to do so and it is our hope that our federal partners will work with state CIOs to harmonize regulations and normalize the audit process."

Reese should know. Last year alone, Oklahoma faced thirteen federal audits, creating a heavy burden on his state. According to NASCIO’s factsheet on the issue, one state reported receiving five different outcomes from federal auditors who reviewed the same IT environment, while another state reported spending 4,000 hours responding to one federal audit.

“It would be good if we could do it one time—or at least less than 13,” Yejin Cooke, NASCIO’s director of government affairs, told Route Fiftyin an interview.

NASCIO began working with the administration last year regarding harmonizing cybersecurity regulations that they claim are often redundant or conflicting across multiple agencies. The organization held meetings with White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce and members of the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer, among others.

In June, Reese testified before the U.S. House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on the issue, stating in his testimony that compliance with federal data security regulations remained one of the “biggest hurdles” to IT consolidation in his state, explaining, “State CIOs invest an inordinate amount of time identifying duplicative regulatory mandates or their differences, participating in federal audits, and responding to inconsistent audit findings. These challenges in and of themselves are not unmanageable; the real issue is that they can and have impeded efforts of state CIOs to introduce efficiencies and generate savings for taxpayers.”

In November, NASCIO and the National Governors Association sent a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney that stated: “State IT consolidation efforts are hampered by the disjointed nature with which federal cybersecurity regulations were promulgated.”

NASCIO has a workgroup dedicated to compiling discrepancies between federal agency mandates on states that hinder their ability to consolidate and optimize systems. Cooke said NASCIO is hoping that by presenting it to federal partners “they or we can pick or choose the control that will work for both the regulating agencies and the state CIOs.”

Cooke is optimistic that the time is right for change in this area. “We are very encouraged to see that the Trump administration is focusing on lessening the regulatory burden for entities, for companies, and maybe also states,” she said. “So it’s an encouraging political environment and we hope to work with them on this and other issues.”

Respecting State Authority on Emerging Technology

Beyond security regulations, NASCIO is also asking Congress and the administration not to limit states’ authority to allow experimentation with emerging technology.

“A premature regulatory framework could stifle innovation and introduce unintended consequences. As such, NASCIO supports the ability and authority of state governments to continue to serve as laboratories of democracy as it applies to emerging technology,” according to NASCIO’s fact sheet.

NASCIO’s plan to advocate for state authorities in the area of emerging technology dovetails with the actions of other national organizations representing state and local government interests. For instance, in the fall, state and local organizations sent a flurry of letters and advocacy campaigns focused on congressional efforts to outline federal and state roles in autonomous vehicle technologies. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who currently serves as chairman of the National Governors Association, also touted the role of states as innovators during the organization’s “State of the States” address last week.

“Governors are truly the nation’s chief innovators, fostering new technologies, creating new opportunities and laying the foundation for an innovative future,” Sandoval said in his remarks.

State CIOs, who play a key role in consulting with their governor and state agencies on applications of emerging technologies, want to be part of that discussion.

"State CIOs recognize the need to address emerging technology by design rather than default and are embracing their role in these discussions," NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson said in a statement.

Information Sharing

NASCIO also stated its continued commitment to promoting the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) as a means of promoting information sharing “especially as resource constraints demand increased cross-jurisdictional collaboration.”

“State governments are trying to provide … an ‘amazon’ experience for citizens, and in order to do that we need to collaborate across agencies laterally—so I think that is driving that priority,” Cooke told Route Fifty.