The former Edmonton Oilers assistant GM takes over a job formerly held by Doug MacLean, who was fired in April after working for Columbus since its birth in 2000.
The Blue Jackets had a record of 172-258-62 under MacLean and are the only current NHL franchise never to have qualified for the playoffs.
"I'm excited for this opportunity and I can't wait to get started," the 47-year-old Howson said in a phone interview.
In Edmonton, he oversaw personnel decisions and contract negotiations, including salary cap issues, a skill that helped the small-market Oilers reach the Stanley Cup final in 2006 and could also help the Blue Jackets.
Team president Mike Priest said in an interview last week that the Blue Jackets need to spend more time developing young players and to avoid older, high-priced players.
Specifics of the multi-year deal with Howson won't be released, said Todd Sharrock, the Blue Jackets' vice-president of public relations.