A new proposal has been put forward to the North Carolina Legislature that would drastically restructure that state’s information technology operations under a cabinet-level information technology department.
The recommendation comes directly from the top: Earlier this year, Gov. Pat McCrory issued a legislative directive that required Chris Estes, the state’s chief information officer, to draft a plan to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to the state’s use of IT.
Estes, along with State Budget Director Lee Roberts and State Controller Linda Combs, appeared last week before a state assembly oversight committee to discuss the plan.
The idea that “we can’t afford to continue to let agencies buy their own IT is also becoming evident, so we need to save money in IT and we also need to implement something quickly,” Estes said during the hearing.
State government IT expenses totaled nearly $1.3 billion in the fiscal year ending last June, according to the current Office of Information Technology Services. The new department, if approved, would control IT expenditures by other cabinet agencies that spent a combined total of slightly less than half of that amount. Other agencies, such as the University of North Carolina and state court systems, would not come under the department.
State leaders believe the project will take about $300 million to complete over the coming years, but will ultimately bring savings as the state becomes more efficient and effective when it comes to procurement and financial management.
One of the nation’s most tech-savvy governors, McCrory has made improving the state’s technological efforts one of his main goals since coming into office two years ago. He inherited an outdated system — indeed, the state was still running Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system earlier this year when service for the platform was discontinued.
A performance review of information technology projects by State Auditor Beth Wood released shortly after McCrory took office in 2013 essentially determined 74 percent of them exceeded their planned budget and schedule, Estes said during testimony. Some of those projects involved Medicaid, food stamps, public education and tax return processing that required more funds than budgeted and were becoming a drain on state resources with their waste.
The department, which would succeed the Office of Information Technology Services, would work closely with other cabinet agencies proposing to upgrade key programs or networks. While the state CIO has veto power over agency projects, it’s not always been clear which agencies required Estes’ approval.
The proposed department would have ultimate control because it would receive state funds to perform a project, not the agency itself. Agencies still would have control over how many computers or other technology their workers need, and would pay fees for tech services and network use.