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Senate Fast Tracks State-Run Tech Agency

February 4, 2014 - 6:00pm

The Senate is once again trying to upload an information-technology agency to oversee large computer projects and set tech policy for the state government.

But, unlike in past years, the House is also backing the concept of a technology oversight agency. The Senate proposal comes against the backdrop of ongoing troubles with Florida's $63 million unemployment system and security breaches at giant retailers such as Target.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Wednesday, with little comment, unanimously supported a measure (SPB 7024) to create the Agency for State Technologies which would cost $5 million in the first year and add nine new government positions.

The Senate last year unanimously passed a similar measure that died in the budget conference process with the House.

Although no companion bill has yet been introduced in the House, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, included development of a state government information technology strategy in their 2014 legislative work plan released late last month.

"The speaker believes Florida should not be the only state in the nation without a chief information officer," Weatherford's spokesman Ryan Duffy said in an email.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who sponsored the bill, has pushed for the creation of the agency for the past three sessions. He said he expects the House to look more favorably on the tech oversight agency because of high costs and high-profile difficulties associated with some of the state's latest tech systems. The Department of Financial Services' Florida Accounting Information Resource (FLAIR) system, now in development, could top $100 million. The Department of Economic Opportunity's $63 million Connect system for jobless claims has been plagued with problems.

Since Dec. 20, 2013, the state has imposed a $15,000-per-business-day penalty and withheld a $3 million payment to Minnesota-based Deloitte Consulting until the Connect system it helped create is deemed "fully functional."

The glitches have delayed the disbursement of thousands of unemployment checks since the system went live on Oct. 15.

Ring also warned that Floridians remain vulnerable due to a Target Corp. data breach in which information from 70 million credit cards was stolen late last year. The lack of any centralized oversight of the state's computer systems and websites put Florida "at risk of significant security breaches," said Ring, a former executive.

"There is no question that when you have a $70 billion business, and you don't have a chief information officer, you can see how flawed that really is and how illogical that really is," Ring said. "We should have done this a couple of years ago."

More importantly, he said, it's difficult to "wrap our arms around how much money we spend on IT."

The agency would be located within the Department of Management Services and run by a chief information officer appointed by the governor.

"It's imperative we have an agency head that can actually speak the same language as the person on the other side of the table," Ring said.

The agency would not have oversight of Cabinet agencies such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Lottery, Florida Housing Corp., and the Department of Legal Affairs. But those departments would have to follow guidelines set up by the new agency and any new programs or software costing more than $50 million would have to undergo a review.

The agency, which would require $2.1 million in startup costs as part of the first year expenses, would consolidate 226 positions from state data centers and the former Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, according to a Senate press release. The nine new positions would include the governor-appointed CIO.

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