TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The House approved a $4.8 million proposal on Wednesday that lawmakers hope will prevent snafus like the months-long headaches brought on by the rollout of Florida’s new $63 million jobless website.

The plan unanimously adopted by the House would create the Agency for State Technology, a new department that would be run by an agency head appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Democrats used the proposed IT agency as a platform to criticize the Department of Economic Opportunity’s troubled Connect website that delayed payments for thousands of jobless individuals since the system went live in October.

“If we had a chief information officer we probably wouldn’t have had the delays with the unemployment website,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to vote on its version (SB 928) of the in-house IT agency on Thursday. The Senate last year approved a similar plan but the House failed to take up the measure.

Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, who ushered the IT measure through the House on Wednesday, blamed himself for the lack of action during the 2013 session.

“It was week two, three or four by the time we began to draft the bill and it required a lot of time by our staff,” McKeel said.

The Connect system woes did not play a role in the planning of the new agency this year, McKeel insisted.

“This has been an issue in the state government for a while,” he said. “We decided last summer this was an important project and to get it done.”

The Senate proposal sets aside $2.9 million in recurring funds and would employ 25 full-time positions, while the House plan allocates $3.2 million in recurring funds for 27 full time workers. McKeel said the differences are being resolved.

Under both measures, the new technology agency would be housed within the Department of Management Services under the direction of the governor’s office and oversee projects worth $10 million or more. The new IT agency wouldn’t oversee Cabinet agencies, but would perform oversight of technology projects and contracts worth $25 million or more within those agencies.

But Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, said the threshold should be lowered.

“My only concern with this bill is that it’s not going to go far enough,” Dudley said.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.


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