Despite a landslide vote in favor of legislation to completely retool the agency, officials said there is still work to be done when it comes to the language and scope of the bill.
The legislation meant to completely retool Florida’s Agency for State Technology (AST) passed in the state’s House of Representatives by a wide margin April 13.
Despite concern from those in the state’s technology space throughout the life cycle of House Bill 5301, lawmakers voted 104 to 11 to move ahead with the proposal that would not only rebrand the IT agency, but also strip it of its data center oversight and rulemaking authority.
In a second reading of the bill April 12, representatives asked questions of the proposal, which originated from the Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee in late-March.
The bill was proposed by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-District 35, and is not the first affront to the autonomy of the agency or its previous iterations. In 2005, the Florida State Technology Office was shuttered after being defunded by the state Legislature. In 2012, a similar set of circumstances led to Gov. Rick Scott closing the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology rather than allowing it to remain unfunded.
Just two years later, in 2014, the latest version of the embattled agency was created, but it wasn’t long before it, too, was a target for lawmakers. In 2015, similarly geared legislation failed to garner the momentum it needed to succeed.
This time around, Ingoglia argues that the AST is spending money in all the wrong places, even going as far as to call certain aspects of the agency’s operation “mismanagement.” But the crux of Ingoglia’s argument for a complete rehashing of the agency centers largely on the state’s data center, which he alleges is not only expensive, but not where the money should be invested.
He instead advocates for a system in which agencies are not tied to the cost-structure of the data center and can decide if cloud services fit their needs on a per-case basis. Interim CIO Eric Larson, however, told Government Technology in a previous interview that this system will not only drive up costs for those who remain in the data center, but could also increase costs to the state at the hands of multiple agencies flying on their own.
During the April 12 hearing, Rep. Evan Jenne, D-District 99, also questioned the wisdom of allowing state agencies to select their own services.
“My concern with that is, could we be heading toward a point in time where rather than having one comprehensive secure IT network, that we will be dealing with a patchwork of incompatible stand-alone systems like we were prior to the creation of AST?” Jenne asked.
When asked why lawmakers should vote to hobble AST’s mission, Ingoglia seemed to criticize the agency for what many in the technology and government space have recognized as substantial progress in the state’s IT form and function. He pointed to the agency's efforts around procurement, data center management and strategic planning as an effort to be a "master to all" in the enterprise IT space.
“I think the way it is currently structured is fostering the environment where some of this stuff is being mismanaged. And while I think there are some people in AST who are extremely talented, are very intelligent when it comes to this stuff, they are just not doing what the intended purpose was to do,” Ingoglia argued.
In the Center for Digital Government's* 2016 Digital States Survey, Florida was ranked as the most improved state, bringing its overall IT rating up from a D in 2012 to a B+ in 2016.
“I’m just wondering, why are we not giving this organization a chance to demonstrate what we charged them to do, it’s only been two years. It seems a rather short period of time,” Rep. David Richardson, D-District 113, said during the debate.
Larson and former state officials have asked a similar question. Though obviously disappointed by the House’s vote Thursday, AST spokesperson Erin Choy told Government Technology that AST is hopeful upcoming conversations around the language and scope of the legislation will garner positive outcomes for all stakeholders.
“We’re hopeful that working with our partners in the Florida Senate and members of the conference committees in the House as well, that we can come to an agreeable solution,” she said. “Much is yet to be done.”
Because the bill is tied to agency funding and the budget, Choy said, even a veto by the governor would leave the agency standing, but without the money to back it up.