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Lawmakers Hope To Save Money With State It Agency

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The creation of an information technology department for state government might or might not save Florida money.

Lawmakers believe it will. And they say such an agency will make the state’s records more secure.

But the problem is they don’t have firm numbers about how much computer and software services currently cost the state.

A staff analysis of a proposed bill (SB 928) to create the Agency for State Technology only lists a fiscal impact of the $5 million needed for the first year of operation.

The Senate version of the proposed agency would include 25 full time employees.

The current cost for such services, which are contracted and spread among various state agencies, was called a “gray area” by senators as the General Government Appropriations Subcommittee gave unanimous support Wednesday for the consolidation effort.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who is backing the Senate measure, said he and other lawmakers have been trying for years to determine the exact amount the state spends on technology services.

“We truly don’t know the answer to that question,” Ring said. “What we unfortunately do know is that there is no consolidation. If you can be a sales person for IBM and sell the same product 19 different times, instead of trying to sell it once, ultimately we’re not getting the scale, and as you get greater scale you get greater discounts and greater purchasing power.”

Equally important, Ring, a former Yahoo.com executive, said that without a chief technology officer and others whose jobs would be to oversee the state’s technology services, the state now has little security from unwanted outsiders.

“Who knows what hackers are doing today to all our information,” Ring said. “We’re the only state in the nation without a chief information officer, which means we’re a $75 billion business without a chief information officer. … That doesn’t exist in any business I assure you.”

The Senate supported the creation of such an agency last year. The House appears to be more receptive to the proposal this year, with its own measure (HB 7073) moving out of the Appropriations Committee.

The issue of a centralized IT agency has grown during the past four months with the troubled rollout of the $63 million Department of Economic Opportunity’s unemployment compensation website. Concern about that department’s system has put focus on even larger programs that are on the horizon, including the Department of Financial Services’ Florida Accounting Information Resource (FLAIR) system, now in development, that could top $100 million.

The new IT agency would be housed within the Department of Management Services under the direction of the governor’s office. The agency wouldn’t oversee Cabinet agencies, but would perform oversight of IT projects and contracts worth $25 million or more within those agencies, under the Senate plan.

The oversight rules and the eventual size of the agency would have to be worked out with the House if both measures reach that point this session.

“The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.”

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