In late March, Florida lawmakers took aim at the state’s Agency for State Technology (AST), proposing a rebranding, as well as sweeping reductions to the agency’s overall authority and oversight of critical data center infrastructure. And despite historically consistent legislative attempts to hobble or kill the IT agency, the latest effort fell short of its intended mark.
What would have equated to a reorganization of AST authority, the loss of state data center control and the effective end of the state’s enterprise IT model under House Bill 5301, looks far less drastic following weekend budget conference negotiations.
Initially, the legislation was proposed by Rep. Blaise Ingolgia, R-District 35, who cited concerns about skyrocketing data center costs and the need for agencies to pursue their own cloud services as needed. While industry experts and state officials argued against the proposal, it moved through the House, ultimately becoming part of the budget process.
“I think we are most excited that the agency will not be reorganized," agency spokesperson Erin Choy told Government Technology. "We have time now in the next fiscal year to continue the improvements that were started when the agency was just created two short years ago."
As a result of the conversations, state policy leaders have outlined a new deal that not only funds AST for the next fiscal year, but also slightly expands the scope of its authority. The new deal allows the CIO to appoint a state chief data officer and the creation of a geographic information office.
The arrangement also comes with quarterly reporting requirements regarding system updates and any new activity — requirements that Choy said AST is happy to meet.
The shift away from a complete rework of AST is also bringing a new cost recovery model that officials believe will benefit the IT shop and its customers. As it stands, cost recovery for AST weighs in at around 90 percent, but the new proposal is expected to improve that figure.
“By moving to this new billing methodology, this new assessment," Choy said, "we will be able to provide more consistent billing for our customer agencies that meet state and federal requirements for a lot of these agencies that receive a lot of federal monies."
Though the agency representative stopped short of calling the outcome a win, the results are far less drastic than what was initially proposed.
“I am hesitant to call it a win. I think that, again, the agency has only been around a couple years and there is a lot that we inherited. From day one, we’ve updated policies, started to work to inventory disparate types of hardware in the data center,” Choy explained “We are optimistic that we can make improvements and adjust if we need to, and are definitely willing to work with those folks that have an interest in technology.”
But the weekend conference was not without some losses for the IT organization. “There were 20 [full-time employee positions] that they have proposed to get rid of, and eight of them are currently filled,” Choy said. “We will work to find other opportunities for these individuals to serve in other functions of the agency if they so choose to do so …”
As Government Technology has reported to this point, Florida's IT agencies have faced considerable challenges at the hands of the state’s Legislature. In 2005, the Florida State Technology Office was shuttered after losing its funding. And in 2012, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology was pulled by Gov. Rick Scott rather than allowing it to stand in title and function without funding.
As for whether Choy expects to see future legislative affronts to AST, she said she expects to see continued attention to the work the agency is doing, but is hopeful that interest can be channeled into productive conversations with legislators that move the state forward.
“After the budget gets voted on, which will happen Monday," Choy said, "we look forward to working with both House and Senate members on how AST can continue to make improvements in the state data center and move any IT policies forward that they have an interest in, particularly cloud."