As early as this week, Virginia could name a new CIO, who likely will be one of the best-paid IT executives in government, with a salary that could reach $200,000 a year. The new Virginia CIO also will have something most of his or her counterparts in government and industry lack: a five-year contract.
Virginia is in the midst of a two-year process to revamp the way it delivers IT services. Instead of separate IT operations in 94 agencies, the state is consolidating IT in the Virginia Information Technology Agency, which will operate independently from the governor. The agency was created by a law enacted last year and is overseen by the Information Technology Investment Board, which has five members appointed by the governor and four by the General Assembly. The search for the new CIO could end as early as Jan. 7, when the IT-investment board next meets. The board has interviewed about a dozen serious candidates, most with previous government-IT experience.
George Newstrom, Virginia's secretary of technology, also served as the state's CIO until his term ended Dec. 31. His deputy, Cheryl Clark, is serving as interim CIO until a permanent appointment is made.
In determining how much to pay the new CIO, the board examined salaries other states pay top technology executives, as well as the compensation received by other top execs in Virginia government. According to a legislative report, the board is considering a salary of $175,000 to $200,000, significantly higher than the $131,370 paid annually to cabinet officers, including Newstrom. It's also higher than the salaries most other state CIOs earn, according to a draft report issued last month by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the research arm of the Virginia General Assembly. Of the 15 states surveyed by Virginia's IT Investment Board, only one-Tennessee, whose CIO earns $225,000 annually-topped the amount Virginia is considering. The lowest CIO salary among the 15 states surveyed was neighboring Maryland's, at $92,220.
Except for the chief investment officer of the Virginia Retirement System, who earns $225,000 plus incentives based on performance, all Virginia state executives have annual salaries of less than $152,000. "Given the complexity of the job, the salary range proposed is more than reasonable for the right kind of person," says Len Pomata, the investment board member who's heading the CIO-search committee. "It's not as high as a private-sector CIO would get, but it's pretty close."
The biggest job for the CIO will be overseeing the consolidation of 94 agency IT operations into one. The prospect of running an IT organization with an annual budget of some $900 million is attractive to candidates, says Tim Ward, senior consultant at the McCormick Group Inc., the executive-search firm contracted to find the new CIO. "Salary has not really been as much as an obstacle as you might think," says Ward, who since October has contacted about 100 potential candidates. "Besides, the dollars aren't so far off than that offered in the private sector, and some people are willing to take a cut for a few years because of the pioneering initiative the job offers."
One of the most attractive aspects of the Virginia CIO job is its five-year contract, almost unheard of in government or industry. Virginia's governor can serve for only one four-year term, so the thinking behind giving the CIO a five-year contract is to take politics out of the job, as the IT executive's term will overlap two administrations. Also, by reporting to an independent board, the CIO won't be under the direct influence of the incumbent administration. Still, the CIO must be someone able to navigate political waters. Says Ward, "The job calls for someone who has a deep understanding of technology plus the savvy to work in the highly politicized environment that's state government."