Dollars & Sense

Several States Are attempting to overhaul funding for enterprise IT projects.

By Steve Towns, Features Editor

With electronic government spurring demand for enterprise-wide IT systems, CIOs are beginning to take control of a larger share of state technology funding.

Rather than splitting dollars among participating departments, some states are paying for new multi-agency technology projects from a single pot of money, which is often overseen by the top technology officer. Whats more, several states are attempting to round up IT dollars already scattered among individual agency budgets and herd them into the coffers of central technology organizations to foster development of systems that operate across departmental lines. Arguing that the current patchwork approach to IT budgeting encourages stand-alone applications, state technology officials contend centralized funding, along with strong interoperability standards and far-sighted planning, forms the foundation for effective enterprisewide e-government.

"Youre never going to be good at managing IT integration if you dont give somebody broad budget authority to pull this stuff together, because [funds] are in so many pieces in so many budgets," said Thom Rubel, director of state information technology programs for the National Governors Association (NGA). "I dont know how you can do enterprise-wide IT if you have fragmented authority because people can just thumb their noses at you."

A new NGA survey indicates 17 states have taken steps to gain a firmer grip on IT dollars that traditionally have resided in multiple agency budgets, said Rubel. The data comes from NGAs semiannual Fiscal Survey of the States, which was scheduled for release in November.

"The fact that roughly a third of states could give us total figures for IT spending was encouraging," he said. "That indicates that some sort of activity has taken place where they have consolidated these budgets, and they know what total state IT spending is."

Pennsylvania Progress

Pennsylvania began funding enterprise-wide IT projects through its Office for Information Technology (OIT) several years ago, said Deputy Secretary of Technology Charles Gerhards, who has seen his offices annual budget swell from $15 million to $135 million over the past five years.

"Thats money that was in individual agency budgets that has been rounded up and put into one location, or it is money for new programs that, in the past, each agency would have asked for a sliver of, and it would have been put into their budgets," said Gerhards. "Putting all of that money in my budget means that Im responsible for it."

Gerhards said centralized funding is vital to the success of inter-agency projects, such as Pennsylvanias statewide radio system and integrated criminal justice computer network (JNET). The $200 million statewide radio initiative is replacing independent radio systems operated by more than 20 state agencies with a single digital network carrying both voice and data messages. Similarly, JNET connects state police, courts, prisons, the probation and parole board and the Department of Transportation through an integrated telecommunications infrastructure.

Under Pennsylvanias Investment Review Program, OIT evaluates agency IT proposals costing more than $100,000 as part of the states normal budget process. Gerhards said his staff watches for similarities among the proposals and seeks to promote inter-agency cooperation on those initiatives whenever possible.

"We look for opportunity, then we go to the budget office and say, Why dont we put all the money in my budget and tell them if they want to do it, then they have to sit at the table." he said.

Gerhards credits the technique with forcing diverse agencies to work together on common IT systems. "Ive seen people working with similar programs for years and years who had never talked. What this is doing is forcing them to talk. The money gets them to the table," he said. "

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.