Alaska finds permanent CIO after months of upheaval

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The state of Alaska appears to have settled on a permanent chief information officer after nearly a year of revolving-door leadership atop the state’s IT agency.

Bill Smith, a former U.S. Army official, started as CIO on Nov. 18, the state’s Office of Information Technology confirmed to StateScoop. He is at least the fifth person to lead the agency since the resignation last year of Bill Vajda, Alaska’s inaugural statewide CIO, who has since moved to Washington D.C. to serve as the IT chief for the U.S. Department of Interior.

Alaska CIO Bill Smith (LinkedIn)

After Vajda’s departure, Alaska’s technology leadership was unstable, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican elected in 2018, shuffling through CIOs his first year in office. Dunleavy’s first appointment, businessman Peter Zuyus, lasted less than two months on the job before being ousted in favor of Paula Vrana, a state-government attorney. Most recently before Smith’s hiring, the CIO’s duties were performed by Ben Shier, a state IT employee. John Boucher, an analyst with the Alaska Office of Management and Budget, has also served stints as interim CIO since Vajda stepped down.

The revolving door in Alaska’s IT department sometimes led to public missteps: During his brief tenure, Zuyus ordered OIT to stop making payments on an $11.6 million cybersecurity contract the agency had inked in October 2018. The contract, pushed forward by former Chief Information Security Officer Shannon Lawson, had been rushed through approval between CIOs, Zuyus claimed to StateScoop earlier this year. Zuyus also accused Lawson of unethical ties to the vendor, which Lawson fervently denied. The state resumed payments on the contract after Zuyus’ dismissal.

Kelly Hanke, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Administration, OIT’s parent agency, said Smith’s hiring is the product of a seven-month recruiting process during which more than 100 candidates were considered. She said Smith came with 28 years of public- and private-sector experience.

“During his successful career in the United States Army, he was a lead participant in several high-level headquarters, Department of the Army projects involving operational forecasting and national force structure,” Hanke said. “Additionally, he was called upon to direct combat military operations and develop an innovative aviation organization and training program to meet critical Army intelligence collection requirements.”

Since leaving the Army, Smith has worked as a senior product manager for the Alaska telecommunications firm ACS and a mechanical engineering company with military construction contracts around the state.

Hanke said Smith will be based in Anchorage, but that he will be “interacting” with OIT’s main workforce in the state capital of Juneau.

Colin Wood contributed reporting.

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Alaska, Bill Smith, Chief Information Officer (CIO)
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