The state of Florida's IT structure has been fluid for a long time, and the new governor is planning once again to shake things up. But this time, a technology advocate in the state says, it feels different.
Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, wants to shut down the state’s technology agency for the third time since 2005.
But it’s an open question whether the move will mean continuing what has become a status quo of instability, or whether it will finally create a clear direction for Florida’s use of technology.
James Taylor, CEO of the nonprofit Florida Technology Council, was a vocal critic of 2017’s legislative attempt to effectively decentralize the Agency for State Technology (AST). That attempt passed with lots of support from lawmakers, but former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.
This time around, Taylor is more hopeful. The details of DeSantis’ plans are unclear; his budget proposal simply calls for dropping the budget of the agency to zero and reallocating them to the Department of Management Services, creating a new Office of the State Chief Information Officer in the process.
But at least DeSantis has been seeking outside advice of experts.
“The biggest difference is right from day one we heard from Gov. DeSantis’ office. They were looking for advice, direction [and] education in these different areas rather than ‘This is what we’re going to do’ and looking for feedback on the plan that was already in place,” Taylor said. “And quite frankly, that’s refreshing.”
Taylor said he’s gotten the impression from AST employees that they would welcome the move so long as it clears up long-standing questions such as what IT authority belongs to the technology department, which decisions are up to individual agencies, what data should be shared, what should be kept private and how officials should approach cybersecurity.
“They’re just looking for direction and support so they can do what they need to do to make their agency succeed,” he said.
With all the upheaval in Florida’s technology leadership, the autonomy of the state’s agencies has left room for interpretation, according to Taylor.
“Most of the agencies feel like it’s their call, but I also know agencies where they’d like to make changes but they don’t know if they have the authority to,” he said.
So, whether it’s the AST or DMS pulling the strings, whether the system ends up in more of a centralized or hybrid state, Taylor wants clarity.
“No matter what direction we head, we have to go all in and we’ve got to have the fortitude to stick with our plan,” he said.
Representatives of DeSantis’ office and AST did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment.