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This Year’s Top 5 Stories in Tech

Individual results may vary, but here are my picks for the year’s so-called top 5 stories – chosen not by their readership or page views but their significance now and in the future.

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Techwire has metrics, numbers, page views and assorted other data to tell us emphatically what were our most-read stories in 2021. And we’ll share some of that information with you in another article. Clicks aside, what follows are my picks for the five top stories of 2021 based, largely, on their prima facie significance to the California government IT market – and/or what they will or could mean, going forward:

California Department of Technology Director and state Chief Information Officer Amy Tong moving on. Yes, for anyone not from Planet Techwire, welcome – and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced Dec. 1 that Tong will leave those roles to become the second-ever director of the Office of Digital Innovation (ODI) as of Saturday. She’s the state’s technology leader, a veteran of state service in several departments – five and a half years in her latest roles – and led the state technology agency through a shift from the “waterfall” development methodology to agile and its rapid, iterative “sprints.” ODI, which Newsom proposed and lawmakers agreed upon in 2019, is one outcome of that change. Deputy state CIO Russ Nichols, who is also CDT’s chief deputy director, will serve as acting CIO.

Vitaliy Panych being formalized as state chief information security officer. This happened in January 2021, and Panych is another longtime public servant who had been acting CISO for two years. But officially filling the role is deeply significant nonetheless, particularly in a time when remote work makes a strong cybersecurity posture more important than ever. Panych’s resume includes time as Information Security Vulnerability Management lead for the Franchise Tax Board; as security and compliance manager at the Employment Development Department; and as agency information security officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation before joining CDT in January 2019.

Departures. No catch phrase required – public-sector goings including retirements, particularly at the state level, continued apace in 2021 and the level of institutional knowledge going out the door was breathtaking. Among those who moved on were Richard Rogers, deputy state chief information officer and chief deputy director of CDT, who departed in February. Nichols succeeded him. Andrea Spears, award-winning deputy director of CDT’s Office of Statewide Project Delivery (OSPD), announced her retirement in May. In November, Newsom appointed Chinyere “Chi” Emodi as state chief project officer and OSPD deputy director. And in November, marking the latest staffing shift at the largest municipality in Silicon Valley, Jerry Driessen stepped down as assistant chief information officer (ACIO) and chief technology officer (CTO) at San Jose. The former chief information officer for Hennepin County, Minn., joined Info-Tech Research Group as executive counselor for state and local government. Related: Earlier this month, the city promoted Chief Information Officer Rob Lloyd to deputy city manager.

Federal coronavirus funding was a historic game-changer for state and local governments. Among the allocations, the California State Treasurer’s Office (STO) received more than $9.5 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funding (CRF) from the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which became law on March 27, 2020. State and local governments have until Friday to make expenditures from that funding. By late September, STO had spent all but about 4 percent of what it received, or more than $9.17 billion — by either spending it or allocating it to 2,889 “subrecipients” around the state including many local and tribal governments and school districts and private companies. Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city by population, received more than $694 million in CRF from the CARES Act; and by late October, had allocated nearly $541 million of what it received to 107 subrecipients, including several technology and innovation companies. And don’t forget monies from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund — one of three primary emergency relief funds that are part of the Education Stabilization Fund, also created by the CARES Act. Local education agencies and entities have until Sept. 30, 2022, to spend funding they have received via this CARES Act stream. Two similar funds, ESSER II and ESSER III, were created by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act, respectively – and they have deadlines too. Their respective deadlines are Sept. 30, 2023, and Sept. 30, 2024.

The need for speed – high-speed Internet, that is: broadband. Possibly the largest tech story of the pandemic is the rise of broadband from nicety to necessity – which, of course, was already happening but underlined in red by COVID-19. In California, Newsom and lawmakers signed off on spending a record $6 billion on broadband infrastructure over three fiscal years starting with the current one. Of the $6 billion, there’s nearly $4.4 billion appropriated in Fiscal Year 2021‑22, $4.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act fiscal relief funds, and $50 million from the general fund. But wait, there’s more. As the Legislative Analyst’s Office recently noted, that includes $3.25 billion for middle-mile networks; and $2 billion for last-mile projects. This all had a resoundingly positive impact on CDT’s budget in the current FY state budget, in place since July 1.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.