Irked by slow responses to prison IT needs, a state senator has filed a bill that would allow agencies to hire their own IT staff — a move that would reverse the direction Oklahoma has been moving in.
(TNS) — State Sen. Roger Thompson said he expects to hear quickly about a bill he filed Thursday that would split a major state agency in two.
Senate Bill 227 would make the Information Services Division its own state agency instead of a department within the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. Thompson's bill also would give agencies more control over information technology services and procurement.
Thompson, who is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is likely to encounter some resistance if his bill advances. Oklahoma has been on a path toward more IT consolidation for eight years, and any reversal will likely cause tension within the government.
The bill would create the Oklahoma Information Services Department, which would continue performing a similar role as it does under OMES, including cybersecurity and IT infrastructure. Unlike current law, however, the proposal would let agencies hire their own IT staff instead of using assigned OMES employees.
Department of Corrections director Joe Allbaugh has criticized the current process because it can sometimes take too long for an IT worker to travel to a prison in need of services. Once they get there, they face daunting and unfamiliar security protocols, he has said.
"We send out IT persons, and they're scared to death to go behind the wall," Thompson said Thursday, echoing remarks Allbaugh has made several times.
Thompson also wants agency directors to have more control over which software their agency uses. Senate Bill 227 would let them decline software, equipment and updates, but any equipment or services costing more than $25,000 still must be approved by the state's chief information officer.
The bill is meant to save money by allowing agencies to bypass another agency, OMES, for services and spend their own appropriations on IT. In 2017, OMES boasted that it unified the IT operations of 110 agencies. The same report said consolidation produced estimated savings and reduced spending of more than $372 million.
"I question the dollar amount that's been saved by what's been done," said Thompson, R-Okmulgee. "I think we have more hypothetical dollars saved than real dollars been saved."
Despite his criticism of how the law treats state IT, Thompson said the state's current chief information officer Bo Reese has done a good job, and should stay in the position under a new gubernatorial administration.
OMES has not publicly responded to the legislation. The Legislative session begins Feb. 4.
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