Bhagowalia says goodbye to DC, hello to Hawaii

Sonny Bhagwolia, deputy associate administrator in the office of citizen services and innovative technologies, GSA

wfedstaff | June 4, 2015 7:53 am

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

Sonny Bhagowalia is leaving his post at GSA to become Hawaii’s first full-time CIO. GSA’s deputy associate administrator in the office of citizen services and innovative technologies told Federal News Radio he had a hard time believing it, at first.

He said he opened an email, “and I thought first it was a spear phishing attack and it wasn’t! It was actually a real deal and the next thing I know, I go through the process, and, you know, ‘glad to serve!'”

Bhagowalia said he sees the new position as “an interesting opportunity to help a state and local agency and work in that environment and help mission, and that’s what we do: we’re public servants.”


He certainly has challenges ahead, reports the Honolulu Civil Beat. The paper gave three examples of how outdated the state’s computer systems are:

  1. “Because Hawaii doesn’t have a data center, the Department of Accounting and General Services trucks back-up tapes to an archives building for safekeeping daily
  2. “Some state employees are still using decades-old Wang computers
  3. “The state prints 9,000 unemployment checks weekly, versus making electronic payments”

Bhagowalia seemed undaunted and expressed appreciation for how the state, and Governor Neil Abercrombie (D), is approaching the transformation. “The idea is to deliver services to citizens,” he said, “and make sure we remember who we serve and I think that’s exactly what he’s doing with the new division.”

The first full-time CIO for Hawaii and head of the newly formed Hawaii Office of Information Management and Technology said the state is looking at it the right way to “solve mission challenges through transformative IT and information resource management tools and processes and so I’m really excited about that.”

Making sure citizens can get services, saving money while strengthening security and providing greater accountability are all very familiar to Bhagowalia. “At the end of the day,” he said, “there’s no substitute for experience. When you’re in the front lines learning and willing to learn, I think that is what’s really transferable.”

For the most part, what he won’t find as much of in Hawaii are things he probably won’t miss.

“When I listen to you guys every day, it’s on my drive in by the way, which I’ll miss….I’ll miss that D.C. commute. (laughs) But it’s always good to listen to and get some knowledge when you’re looking at it, and we’re solving the same kinds of issues. I think the same things will happen in Hawaii. We’re looking at similar issues in terms of how do we look at capacity, how do we look at provisioning and managing and so on and so forth.”

When reminded by anchor Tom Temin he can listen to the Federal Drive online, Bhagowalia promised “I will still do that.”

The quick July 7 start date belies Bhagowalia’s plan to slowly go through a process done right, evaluating his needs to fulfill the mission. “That’s a CIO’s dream,” he said, “to make sure that we can actually have a responsive organization that can first govern and work together amongst all these different teams, and then work to a unified organization that can implement services for our citizens, and provide those services for more like effective and efficient government, and I think that’s the real promise, and they’ve got a great team working that as well, so I look forward to joining that.”

He made clear he appreciates GSA and the people here, and has no desire to leave them. “I just like to solve new problems and new challenges.”

Until then, look for the man in the aloha shirt.

“Aloha and mahalo!” said the CIO.