Washington State May Consolidate Tech Agencies

House Bill 1391 would combine all technology operations into the Consolidated Technology Services Agency and under the purview of Washington State CIO Michael Cockrill.

by / January 30, 2015
Washington state's House Bill 1391 was discussed in a General Government & Information Technology Committee meeting on Friday, Jan. 30, in Olympia. tvw.org
Washington state's House Bill 1391 was discussed in a General Government tvw.org

Washington lawmakers want to consolidate the state’s three technology agencies into one, reversing a 2011 reorganization that split the former Department of Information Services (DIS) into separate operations.

House Bill 1391, introduced by Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, unites the Washington Department of Enterprise Services (DES), Office of Financial Management (OFM) and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) under the Consolidated Technology Services Agency (CTS). The move is estimated to save the state approximately $2.4 million in management and administrative costs.

The measure was discussed in a General Government & Information Technology Committee meeting on Friday, Jan. 30, in Olympia, Wash. If HB 1391 passes and is signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, it would take effect on July 1.

Hudgins, the primary sponsor of HB 1391 and chair of the committee, noted that the Washington Legislature previously split up the functions of the former DIS so that the CIO position could perform more of an oversight role and help break down silos between agencies. State CIO Michael Cockrill admitted there would be an increased workload, but he felt the change would improve the state’s overall technology standing and prepardness.

“You can’t be all things to all people, and there are strengths and weaknesses to all [approaches],” Cockrill said. “Having the OCIO separate has a strength around oversight, but I’d argue it does that at the cost of aligning strategy with execution. The overall value of the strategy and implementing that strategy will make things more efficient. The net of it is we’re trying to get the best of both worlds, and I think this bill walks that line.”

The two primary benefits Cockrill sees with the CTS agency absorbing all the state’s technology functions are improved accountability and a strengthened cybersecurity posture. While no one at the hearing expressed opposition to HB 1391, Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, was concerned that the financial savings would come from eliminating positions.

Cockrill, however, said the intention is to make sure no one loses their jobs. He estimated that there would be nine to 11 positions that would no longer be needed in the CTS, but those personnel would be re-assigned to other areas of state government.

Under HB 1391, Cockrill, in his position as state CIO, would also head-up the CTS. Cockrill would have formal authority over establishing standards and policies to govern state IT in Washington, including technology purchasing.

Rob St. John, current director of the CTS, testified in support of HB 1391 and pointed out that one of the major challenges his agency has are the different perspectives among departments about how IT services are delivered. He believes the measure will eliminate confusion and put everyone on the same page.

Alia Griffins, a lobbyist with the Washington Federation of State Employees, indicated the union doesn’t have any major concerns with the bill, as long as employee bargaining rights are maintained. Other concerns about HB 1391 centered on the importance of good change management if the consolidation goes forward and developing mitigation strategies to address the challenges of re-alignment.

Tim Young, a private citizen who testified he has more than 30 years of IT experience with the state, felt lawmakers should be cautious in making another change. He noted the DIS was split apart for a reason, and now the state legislature is re-creating essentially the same structure.

“Clearly there must have been a set of problems at DIS that were resolved by disassembling [it],” Young said. “I want the committee to be aware of what [those were], and that the new agency has the resources so those don’t re-occur.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.