Florida eliminates IT agency (again)

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made his state’s latest reorganization of its information technology governance official on Monday when he signed legislation under which the Agency for State Technology, which was only created in 2014, will be absorbed by the Florida Department of Management Services.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature last month, makes good on DeSantis’ February proposal to shutter AST as an independent agency and move its operations into the Department of Management Services’ telecommunications division, which currently operates the state government’s phone, mobile communications and video conferencing functions. Currently, AST is responsible for most other IT operations, including cybersecurity and the statewide data center in Tallahassee.

The Division of State Technology, as the new combined office will be called, will become active next Monday when Florida’s 2020 fiscal year begins. It will eventually be led by a chief information officer, who will be selected by Jonathan Satter, the secretary of the Department of Management Services.

Florida has been without a CIO since Eric Larson, who had held the position since 2017, resigned a week after DeSantis’ inauguration. The consolidation of AST into DMS will be overseen by Heath Beach, the director of the current telecommunications division, Florida officials told StateScoop last month. The law making the merger effective does not call for any specific cuts to AST’s 203-person workforce, though officials have said the new agency will likely find “efficiencies” as it shakes out.

“I want to thank the Florida Legislature for their support of our administration’s efforts to streamline agency operations and deliver a more efficient government to Floridians,” DeSantis said in a press release Monday.

The bill DeSantis signed will also create a new Florida Cybersecurity Task Force, which will contain several state officials — including the eventual CIO —  as well as representatives selected by the governor and leaders of the state legislature. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez will serve as the task force’s leader. According to the legislation, the task force will be responsible for making recommendations on governmentwide cybersecurity policies, with particular focuses on the state data center, emergency management and ability to respond to cyberattacks.

Separately, DeSantis recently ordered $5.1 million in spending to bolster the cybersecurity of the state’s election systems.

But the shakeup of AST marks the third time since 2005 that Florida has overhauled its IT governance. The Florida State Technology Office, created in 2001, was eliminated in 2005 after the legislature refused to fund it, over the objections of then-Gov. Jeb Bush. The office was replaced by the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, which lasted until 2012 when it, too, was abolished in a similar fashion. After two years without a centralized IT office or CIO, the state created the Agency for State Technology in 2014.

Still, AST was never safe from legislative sniping. In 2017, Florida lawmakers passed a bill that would’ve wiped out the agency in favor of a seven-person office with no purchasing power, and also erased the word “enterprise” from the state code. The veto of that measure, by Gov. Rick Scott, was sustained.

While this latest move is yet another reorganization, it does preserve a consolidated IT operation. DeSantis’ office did not respond to questions about when a permanent CIO will be appointed.

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Agency for State Technology, Florida, IT governance, Ron DeSantis
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