IT muscle for "Governator"

FRAMINGHAM (03/18/2004) - J. Clark Kelso may be unemployed six months from now, but there's no time to focus on that. His state is out of money, his new boss is talking about blowing up the structures of government, and Kelso, the CIO of California, is trying to find ways to do more with less.

Kelso's job has never been easy. He was appointed in the wake of a US$95 million Oracle Corp. contract scandal and recently saw the Democrat who appointed him, former Gov. Gray Davis, recalled. Kelso's new boss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in February created the California Performance Review to find ways to cut, consolidate and modernize the state's bureaucracy. Kelso sees IT playing a major role in the initiative. "The governor is looking for radical ideas," he says. "You don't do any of those things without having information technology playing a significant role as the facilitator of those changes."

The state failed to cash in on the productivity gains that IT brought to the private sector in the 1990s, Kelso says, and if California could consolidate more of its aging data systems and effectively deploy more Internet technologies, it could alleviate some of the financial pain that the state's looming $14 billion deficit promises to inflict.

But even with the deficit, IT spending in California has not ground to a standstill. Kelso still expects a planned consolidation of two of the state's data centers to move forward this summer, and he is now shepherding the state controller's office through an upgrade of its payroll systems, which he expects to go out for bid early this year.

But will Kelso still have a job in the Republican governor's administration? Schwarzenegger's rhetoric indicates that Kelso still has a shot. During his campaign, the Hollywood actor and self-proclaimed political outsider said he would work to cross party lines. "There's a lot of great talent in Sacramento, Democrats and Republicans alike--people that really want to do good for the state," Schwarzenegger told the Sacramento Bee before the October 2003 special election. "You have to bring them together and give them leadership."

It would not be a shock to see Kelso stay on, says Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media with California State University at Sacramento. Kelso's role in cleaning up the state's IT practices have earned him high marks, she says. "He's not highly partisan. He came in at a time when there was a big crisis...and kind of cleaned house."

Kelso says that he's in the same position as many other department directors in California's government these days, but he admits that, as far as CIO jobs go, his is unique. "It's not a job for somebody who wants a lot of job security because you never know whether it's going to be there in six months."

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