Richardson hires outgoing state CIO

Alex Pettit

SALEM — Outgoing state Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit has a new job — but he won’t be going far.

Petitt will join Secretary of State Dennis Richardson’s office to shore up elections infrastructure and lead the agency’s emergency management program and planning, according to an internal announcement of the hire obtained by the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau.

The news comes on the heels of Pettit’s resignation, effective June 1, as state CIO, the reasons for which remain unclear.

The move might raise eyebrows: Richardson is the top-ranking Republican in state government, and the only Republican in statewide elected office. As CIO, Pettit answered to Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.

There’s been some tension between the offices. Earlier this year, top staff in the Secretary of State and Governor’s offices had to meet to clear up a controversy about public statements by a gubernatorial staffer accusing Richardson of politicizing audits.

Brown said in a statement April 6 that she and Pettit “mutually agreed” that the time was right for his resignation and for a new CIO “to be put in place to build on (Pettit’s) work and move the Governor’s vision for IT governance forward.”

Pettit was initially hired in 2014 by former Gov. John Kitzhaber during the Cover Oregon debacle — the failed statewide health insurance exchange — to put an end to the state’s long history of failed information technology projects.

Pettit instituted a rigid system where his office had responsibility for ensuring agencies were tracking the progress of their projects, rather than letting them run off the rails.

He was even asked to step in directly to try to rescue Cover Oregon, setting up a mandatory meeting used to hold contractors and employees accountable.

Insiders said under his leadership the project made significant progress. But in the end, he concluded the system had an insurmountable design flaw, meaning it could not be saved without massive additional expenditures — leading the state to use the federal health insurance exchange instead.

Richardson called the Pettit hire an “absolute coup.”

The secretary of state said the outgoing CIO’s background in cybersecurity meshed with his focus, and is part of a push to hire “world-class people” for the office.

“I have great respect for him,” Richardson said.

Asked why Pettit no longer worked in his old job, Richardson said, “My sense is that he was given responsibility but without authority to make the changes necessary.”

“I know that he’s very excited to work for us,” said Richardson’s chief of staff, Deb Royal. “And we’re very excited to have him.”

Pettit’s new title at the Secretary of State’s Office will be business continuity program manager.

Business continuity concerns keeping an organization running smoothly in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. He’ll also oversee the state’s Agency Operations Center, which will be used by agency leaders to “respond to crisis situations.”

The Portland Tribune’s Nick Budnick contributed reporting.

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