Florida State Rep. James Grant ended his re-election campaign this week, opting instead to accept an offer as the state’s new chief information officer.
Grant, who introduced legislation creating the latest iteration of the state’s technology bureau, the Florida Digital Service, will now head that division, the Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday. The 37-year-old Republican lawmaker will lead technology operations in a state that has reorganized its IT department four times in the last 15 years, most recently after passage of Grant’s own HB 1391, which dismantled an IT department that had been created only a year earlier.
According to the legislation he helped write, Grant’s role — as well as the state’s chief data officer and chief information security officer roles — have been reclassified, exempting them from the state’s “career service” benefits program. Instead, those roles will fall under Florida’s “senior management service” and Grant’s salary and benefits will be set by DMS, the Florida Digital Service’s parent agency.
Grant’s legislation also removed a provision from the CIO job description requiring potential candidates possess “at least 10 years of executive-level experience in the public or private sector.” Instead, candidates must now have five years’ experience in IT strategic planning or policy. Grant himself has more than seven years’ experience as the co-founder of CareSync, a company that provides software services to the health care industry. He’s also served one year as the chief strategy officer of Appley Health, which provides “cutting-edge blockchain ecosystem and direct contracting solutions.” (He’s occupied a seat at the Florida House of Representatives since 2010 thanks to a loophole in the state’s term limits.)
Grant, who could not be reached for comment, told the Tampa Bay Times there is no connection between his work as a state lawmaker redesigning the CIO role and his appointment to that role.
“Anyone who thinks I created a job for myself can’t read policy and is just throwing out cheap political shots,” Grant told the Times. “Instead of running a data center, the CIO now has to make sure data moves across agencies and he sets the table for cyber security reform.”
Grant will replace interim state CIO Drew Richardson, who’s been filling a role that now reports to Florida Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter. Grant will be the state’s first permanent CIO since Eric Larson resigned in January 2019, just one week after the inauguration of Gov. Ron DeSantis. (At that point, Florida’s technology department was called the Agency for State Technology.)
In the months following Larson’s resignation, the CIO position remained without a permanent replacement, and in May the governor announced AST would be renamed the Division of State Technologies and moved under the Department of Management Services, a typical arrangement in organizations run by politically conservative leaders who favor the cost-savings offered by technology over its ability to offer a broader range of digital services to underserved populations.
Interim CIO Heath Beach stepped down last December and Grant’s bill this year rearranged the state’s various IT responsibilities yet again.
According to the Florida Digital Service website, which currently contains only placeholder text, the agency was modeled after the federal U.S. Digital Service and is “dedicated to delivering better government services and transparency to Floridians through design and technology.”