Washington State Might Combine Agencies, Back-Office Work

Gov. Chris Gregoire and budget committee announce proposal to move part of the Department of Information Services into a combined department that would handle the state’s back-office work.

by / December 14, 2010

Budget deficits have forced Washington state to become the latest government to rethink its organizational structure and services.

Facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced jointly with the Transforming Washington’s Budget committee on Tuesday, Dec. 14, a proposal that would consolidate the state’s 21 agencies into nine, at a projected $30 million savings and a reduction of at least 125 jobs.

The plan would bring changes to the Department of Information Services, the state’s technology agency. Part of the department would be recombined into the newly formed Department of Enterprise Services. According to the governor’s office, this new department would perform back-office functions like printing and financials that today are performed in each agency. The Department of Information Services would continue to oversee the state’s “computing services, telecommunications, and network administration and security services.”

“At the new department, we will emphasize competition to get the best price for critical services,” Gregoire said in a statement Tuesday.

Though rare, Washington’s proposal wouldn’t be the first time a state has merged departments to eliminate back-office redundancy. One year ago, Michigan combined its budget and technology departments into a single agency. And for the past two years, the Ohio Office of Budget and Management has operated a shared services center that does payroll, travel reimbursement, call center hosting and other work for participating agencies. In another example, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue floated a proposal similar to Washington’s last week that would pare the number of state agencies and also privatize the state’s technology services.

Gregoire said Tuesday that she would bring the cost-saving plan to the state Legislature. She said “painful cuts” are necessary to balance the state budget.

The plan could bring further uncertainty for the Department of Information Services. The department has yet to permanently replace state CIO Tony Tortorice, who abruptly resigned in September, citing family reasons. Gregoire is pushing the Legislature to change the role of the Department of Information Services and the state CIO, according to a source. It could be months before the state fills the CIO role.

Construction continues on a new state data center complex that reportedly is costing $300 million.