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Backroom Briefing: Scott Pulls Plug on Attempt to Short-Circuit Tech Agency

June 29, 2017 - 7:15pm
Rick Scott
Rick Scott

A legislative fight that didn't attract much publicity but potentially could involve hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to state taxpayers fizzled out this week with Gov. Rick Scott's veto of a House bill.

The dispute centered on the future of the relatively obscure Agency for State Technology.

Scott vetoed the bill (HB 5301), which would have shrunk the agency's role in centralizing Florida government's vast and costly computing, software and technology services.

Spring Hill Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, who's also the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, pushed the legislation, citing the high cost of the technology agency, created in 2014. He argued that returning technology decisions to state agencies, rather than a centralized authority, would be cheaper and could lead to quicker innovation, including the use of more cloud services.

But opponents objected that effectively dismantling the Agency for State Technology would be a return to the “good old days,” when individual agencies cut their own deals with technology companies. That resulted in an inefficient, patchwork system for the state government, according to critics.

Scott, who created a massive health care company while in the private sector and knows a thing or two about organizational efficiencies, sided with the critics, saying the House bill “creates an inflexible landscape and discourages innovative business change.”

“This bill limits the (technology) agency's ability to perform their primary function, which is to manage state information technology,” Scott said in his veto message.

Scott's decision drew bipartisan praise from a former Yahoo executive.

“For ten years, I worked to ensure that IT infrastructure was fortified and all sensitive data the state collects on individuals was secure,” said former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Broward County Democrat seeking a post on the state Cabinet as chief financial officer, who opened Yahoo's first East Coast office in 1996. 

Ring said the House bill would have “gutted” the Agency for State Technology, “putting in peril the personal data of millions of Floridians.”

Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed watchdog group, also supported Scott's veto, saying before Florida government's technology systems “were severely disjointed and sub-optimized” before the agency was established.
“In fact, it was so terrible, that (Florida) was ranked last of all 50 states and given a 'D' letter grade by The Center for Digital Government,” Calabro said.

The creation of the agency earned Florida a B-plus grade by the group last year along, with a recognition as the “most improved” state.

“HB 5301 would have reversed this trend,” Calabro said.


Space Florida is understandably disappointed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos isn't planning to build his powerful BE-4 rocket engines on the Space Coast.

The engine plant plans by Bezos's private spaceflight company called for the creation of a $200 million, 400,000-square-foot production site requiring 342 high paying jobs.

But this week's decision by Blue Origin, based in Kent, Wash., wasn't a complete surprise for those at Florida's aerospace development agency.

Dale Ketcham, Space Florida's chief of strategic alliances, said Tuesday that while Florida and Texas submitted bids for the project, insiders anticipated that Blue Origin was “likely to go to Alabama.”

Florida just couldn't compete with what was being offered in Hunstville, Ala., which is also known as “Rocket City.”

For one, Alabama put a lot of money on the table.

Space Florida “aggressively bid” on the project, according to Ketcham. But Alabama's offer wasn't something that the Sunshine State could counter right now.

The Alabama Department of Commerce pitched a state incentive package topping $50 million. The deal includes an investment credit worth $30 million and reimbursements for certain capital costs worth up to $10 million. The deal also throws in another $8.7 million for job creation. The city of Huntsville added $6 million, which includes the cost of the land for the new plant, and another $1 million is coming from local governments to help cover construction costs.

Two years ago in Florida, state and local governments were able to cobble together an incentive package, worth about $26 million, that landed a 700,000-square-foot manufacturing plant --- now under construction at Space Florida's Exploration Park south of Kennedy Space Center --- where Blue Origin will manufacture its New Glenn orbital rockets. The New Glenn rockets are also expected to use the new BE-4 engines.

But incentives may not have been the final factor in Bezos's latest decision.

He picked a state with considerable congressional influence on space policy; U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal spending for NASA.

Also, the Huntsville location is considered more ideal --- it's about 30 miles from United Launch Alliance's rocket assembly factory in Decatur, Ala.

Bezos wants ULA, a private company that provides satellite launches to the U.S. government, to pick his engine for its Vulcan rocket, the company's next-generation launch system intended to make space launches more affordable and commercialized.


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