when pitching their next project to the Legislature.

Show Me the Money

Legislation mandating better project management was a useful first step, Huston said, but many decision-makers in the process aren't zealous about implementing the dramatic changes required.

"Even today," he said, "I still feel like a lot of the issues that are raised fall on deaf ears."

The Legislature has consistently underfunded projects in the past, Huston said, adding that he once compared the dilemma to receiving $20,000 to build a $40,000 car.

Teck said he agreed with Huston.

"That's been a big problem," Teck said. "The Legislature sees a project that is estimated to cost $200 million, and they say, 'Yeah, go ahead and do the project, but do it for $100 million.' Unfortunately people [in state government] say, 'OK, we'll try,' and that's a foolish thing to do."

One challenge is the political difficulty of funding IT projects instead of more visible programs.

"Unfortunately computer programs are hard to see. They may serve people, but frankly the people this system serves are not the strong voting blocs that some legislators are concerned with. Providing service to that voting bloc may not be a high priority," Teck said. "If you've got somebody who's in charge of putting $10 million into a new computer system or putting $10 million into a highway in their district, the inclination is to put the money in the highway."

Feingold said agency executives are unprepared to counter the joint budget committee's attempts to shortchange projects, and agencies must enter joint budget committee meetings with documentation of the problems similarly underfunded projects endured in the past.

Fully funding a project, Feingold said, involves funding its total cost of ownership, which often requires expenditures for five to 10 years in the future -- and that's something Colorado legislators hate doing.

"Here in Colorado, there's a tradition of one session of the General Assembly not wanting to impose a burden on a future set of elected officials," Feingold said, prompting agency executives to only request funding for the first year of multiyear projects, and then return every year for each following phase. After a few years, those executives find themselves in front of new legislators who weren't privy to the project's genesis. The new legislators resent feeling ambushed, having no choice but to continue funding that project at the risk of wasting the tax dollars already spent on it, he said.

Feingold recommends agencies do a feasibility study of a project's needs, which would irrefutably back up the agency's funding requests and formally establish the needed futures funding in the legislative record.

"Let's be open about it," Feingold said. "If it requires incremental funding, at least you have some basis for doing that. And then it's incumbent on the administration doing that project to stay within those guidelines."

Agencies should also practice better change management, he said, consulting the Legislature early on when a project's scope changes and new requirements emerge that require extra funding. He said agencies typically try to swallow those extra requirements, assuring inquiring legislators that everything is fine.

"Insufficient attention is paid to what the impact of that new requirement will be on cost schedule and system performance," Feingold said. "The thing starts creeping up, and then schedules aren't met, budgets are overridden, the thing doesn't perform well."

What the Future Holds

Huston said he would cautiously wait to see how decision-makers in both state agencies and the Legislature follow through on what the project management legislation started. The next major IT project will tell the tale, and Witwer said many projects are forthcoming.

Also, staff shakeup in departments resulting from November's gubernatorial election will show whether

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.