Where could Virginia's next secretary of technology come from?


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With the election of Democrat Terry McAuliffe as Virginia’s next governor, the commonwealth will likely be in the search for new technology leadership as both Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey and Chief Information Officer Sam Nixon have strong Republican ties to outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell.

While McAuliffe has yet to name possible replacements — and even the most plugged-in Virginia wonks without an early guess — Virginia is in a unique situation as candidates can come from a variety of places based on the large base of technology workers, its proximity to the federal government and the state’s robust higher-education system.

StateScoop looks at some places where McAuliffe will look for his next secretary of technology and CIO, both governor-appointed positions under current Virginia law.

Here are some places McAuliffe and his team will likely look:

The private sector: The most likely choice, Virginia — especially, the counties closer to Washington, D.C. — are filled with executives with decades of experience running huge technology projects for both the federal government and state governments. For example, Duffey spent 24 years at Electronic Data Systems before starting his own consulting firm and eventually becoming secretary.

In fact, five of the six secretaries of technology in Virginia’s history came directly from the private sector, while the sixth, Eugene Huang, was an entrepreneur before joining the state as deputy secretary before his promotion to secretary. The simple move for McAuliffe would be to select an executive from one of the hundreds of government contractors that dot Northern Virginia’s office parks around the Beltway.

The federal government: The more recent trend is state officials jumping to the federal government — think former California CIO Teri Takai moving to the Defense Department — but it goes the other way as well as Hawaii CIO Sonny Bhagowalia had a decorated federal career before going the state route. Could McAuliffe pilfer a top federal government leader tired of the gridlock in Washington and offer him or her some real power to get things done in Virginia? An opportunity like that might lure the most accomplished govie from Washington to Richmond. Plus, they might not even have to move.

Academia: Virginia Tech is in the southwest corner of the state, William & Mary in the southeast, the University of Virginia in the center and George Mason in the north. All these universities within the state offer plenty of scholars well versed in technology and, especially in the case of George Mason, are familiar with how government technology operations work and the other universities’ reputation speaks for themselves. Think there is a dean or tenured professor with some thoughts on how to maximize the use of technology in government?

Associations: Maybe not Virginia, but over the river in Washington, D.C., sits a number of the country’s most powerful technology associations, including TechAmerica, the Information Technology Industry Council, National Association of Government Contractors and the Consumer Electronics Association, just to name a few. Could a member of one of those associations — or another one not named here — be hosting a possible candidate?

Keep Duffey and Nixon: It probably won’t happen based on their political leanings, but Duffey and Nixon have done a job once thought impossible: stabilize the state’s massive outsourcing deal with Northrop Grumman. McAuliffe has established a very bipartisan transition team, so maybe keeping the duo is not completely out of the question, but he’ll most likely want his own lieutenant in the position.

As you can see, the possibilities are almost limitless with qualified candidates, and that’s if McAuliffe stays in state for the position. With the high profile of Virginia’s IT systems, it’s a job that could attract candidates nationwide.

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