Florida has historically had difficulty keeping a state information technology agency online. Political disagreements about how much control the agency should have over state IT projects led to the office being axed twice during the past decade. But change may be afoot in the state.
Senate Proposed Bill 7024: State Technology (SPB 7024) creates the Agency for State Technologies (AST) and authorizes the hiring of nine state employees, including a CIO that would be appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The bill was introduced and unanimously passed earlier this month by the Florida Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability.
Sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, SPB 7024 – now listed as Senate Bill 928 after being approved by the committee – still has a long way to go before becoming law. A companion bill has yet to be introduced by the Florida House of Representatives, where similar legislation died in 2013.
But according to Sunshine State News, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have put the development of state IT strategy in their 2014 legislative work plan. Weatherford’s spokesman, Ryan Duffy, said Weatherford believes Florida shouldn’t be the only state in the U.S. without a CIO.
“We continue to miss opportunities to capitalize on enterprisewide technology solutions and are failing to properly execute technology projects that would deliver much-needed services and cost savings to Floridians,” Gaetz said in a statement.
The legislation is far from perfect. While SB 928 establishes the agency, the bill gives it more of an advisory and planning role without a lot of direct control. For example, the AST would not have technology oversight over the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Lottery, the Florida Housing Corporation or the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
Despite the challenges, former Florida CIO David Taylor believes SB 928 is a good first step in establishing a permanent technology office in the state. He noted that the bill enables the AST to craft some standards, which is what Taylor and his staff were trying to do when the office was defunded in 2012.
In addition, Taylor called the authority under the bill an “improvement” over his old agency. He said AST would have more director control over the two state data centers, which would be combined into one with two service sites.
The ability for a state CIO to shape and enforce IT policy in Florida, however, is very much limited in SPB 7024. Taylor agreed, but categorized it as “removing obstacles to get the ball rolling.”
“I agree with the long term vision, but the creation of this office is a very political thing," Taylor said. "And in politics, you take incremental wins and build on them each year."
Florida has had a number of expensive IT projects experience cost overruns or functionality issues the last couple of years. For example, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Connect system – which processes unemployment claims for the state – has had numerous problems since it went live last year, delaying benefit disbursements to Floridians.
In an interview with Government Technology, Ring said the project failures illustrate exactly why he believes SB 928 will pass. He added that Florida ranks at the bottom of various report cards that measure IT success and that recent private-sector hacking incidents involving Target and Yahoo show why a CIO is needed.
Taylor didn’t have any concrete answers as to why Florida has been hesitant to embrace a “strong CIO” mentality. But he felt that in comparison to other states, there might be too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the day-to-day technology decision-making.
“The Legislature … seems to want an unusual level of control over information technology,” Taylor said, noting that his opinion is based on the experiences relayed to him by other state CIOs. “I don’t know the reason for that, but they seem to micro-manage information technology.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.