01 Jun GOP, Dems split over funding of state technology projects
Madison, Wis. – Public officials on both sides of the aisle concede that wasteful information technology spending has occurred during Republican and Democratic administrations, but judging by the more partisan tone taken this week by members of the Joint Committee on Finance, there is a growing divide on how to proceed next.
That division was illustrated this week when Joint Finance, in partisan votes, failed to achieve the majority necessary to advance funding for two technology projects – an unfinished data center that could impact an ongoing server-consolidation project, and a project to replace 100 software programs used by executive branch agencies for accounting, budgeting, payroll, and human resources with a new, integrated business system.
In the process, Republican committee members, citing a scathing Legislative Audit Bureau report that placed the blame for $170 million in problematic IT projects on a lack of oversight and project monitoring, held the Doyle Administration responsible.
After initially decrying the finger pointing of their GOP colleagues, Democrats returned the fire and pointed to Republican failings in the area of technology oversight.
Preliminary allocations for the two IT projects called for expenditures of $4.8 million for the data center and $19.7 million for integrated business services, respectively, in the 2007-09 biennium. While neither side questioned the goals of the projects, which include greater efficiency and cost savings, Republicans drew the line on additional funding until committee-approved safeguards are in place.
“We stopped the run-away IT train, and we put measures in place to protect taxpayers,” said State Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford and a member of Joint Finance.
Amid the partisan fight, Democrats joined Republicans in unanimously recommending safeguards designed to prevent continuing problems. Among the unanimously adopted measures were recommendations to:
• Direct the Department of Administration, which oversees IT projects, to create a process for identifying and monitoring troubled projects, particularly those at most risk of falling behind schedule or exceeding their budgets.
• Promote the use of fixed-price contracts for vendors working on IT projects costing $1 million or more, and require agencies with open-ended contracts to file quarterly reports to the DOA on project spending. The committee suggested some flexibility in favor of open-ended contracts if the fixed-price approach results in fewer vendors bidding on projects, but Suder said protections are needed so the state “isn’t on the hook for millions and millions of dollars.”
• Instruct the DOA to write new rules to encourage the use of off-the-shelf rather than customized software. The Audit Bureau report cited the costs associated with customizing software as a key factor in many state IT cost overruns.
• Have the DOA develop, and legislative committees review, written policies for all state agencies on IT projects of $1 million or more.
Parties at odds
When it came to additional funding for the data center and business software integration projects, however, the two parties were at cross purposes. The tie vote on each project – eight Democrats voting for and eight Republicans voting against – effectively removes any new funding for the time being.
The vote sets up action in the Senate, where majority Democrats can vote to restore the funding, and the Republican-controlled Assembly, which is likely to opposed restoration. The outcome would then hinge on negotiations in a conference committee comprised of lawmakers appointed by Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, and Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem.
Dan Kanninen, chief of staff for State Senator Robert Jauch, a Democrat and a member of Joint Finance, said in their desire to place the blame for IT problems on Gov. Jim Doyle, Republicans overlooked their own technology failings.
Kanninen noted that four years ago, Republicans disbanded the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology, which was in charge of overseeing information technology projects and played a role in managing the state’s approach to Y2K.
In its recent report on state IT projects, the Audit Bureau recommended the committee be reactivated, but Huebsch has instead chosen to establish an IT Task Force comprised of Assembly lawmakers and private-sector executives.
“Now they are howling about oversight, but they disbanded a committee to do that,” Kanninen said, noting the committee had statutory authority to oversee IT projects.
Kanninen characterized the Republican votes to cut funding as “a little knee-jerk,” especially regarding the integrated business systems project, which is in its early stages and has consumed $709,000 in DOA funding. He said it was one of the projects reviewed by the Audit Bureau, which said the DOA had taken several positive steps to plan it effectively and control its costs.
“They [Republicans] are reluctant to support something that they want to use as a political lightning rod with which to embarrass the governor,” Kanninen said.
The Audit Bureau report, however, was less sanguine about the data center project, which is linked to the delayed server-consolidation project. The DOA was not only supposed to reduce the number of state-owned servers from the 2,239 that existed in November of 2004, it planned to reduce maintenance costs through centralized control of servers in a single data center.
According to the Audit Bureau report, the DOA had spent $20.2 million on the server consolidation project through September of last year, but has yet to demonstrate that $15.6 million in projected savings will occur over a five-year period. Server consolidation was to be completed in May of 2006, but the vendor, Crowe Chizek, ceased work on the project, and it might take five more years to complete. In addition, cost overruns for the server-consolidation project also will increase the cost of the data center.
Suder said it would be ill-advised to provide additional funding for the IT projects until the measures approved by Joint Finance are in place. “Right now, we don’t have enough accountability and oversight to move forward,” he said.
State out of IT?
At least one prominent lawmaker questioned whether the state should be in the information technology business. State Senator Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, said state IT projects should be outsourced to companies like IBM or Hewlett Packard because a single, coherent approach is needed to overcome management issues stemming from the competing agendas of state agencies.
Kanavas, a software executive, said the state “just isn’t very good” at information technology. “There are too many agencies with independent agendas,” he said. “They lack a coherent approach to information technology, and that funnels down to the project level.”
• Speaker announces business members of IT Task Force
• State technology chief endorses IT audit recommendations
• Technology audit rips poor planning and oversight
• Is the worst over for state technology failures?
• State of Wisconsin dumps another tech project