- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration asked North Carolina lawmakers Thursday to create a Cabinet-level information technology department to better control state computer projects historically marked by delays, cost overruns and programs that missed expectations.

The proposed Department of Information Technology would improve accountability with project development and lead to greater efficiencies by using compatible software and system across agencies, state Chief Information Officer Chris Estes told a General Assembly oversight committee.

That should lead to a more streamlined online experience for the public while performing transactions with state government, Estes added. For example, someone who wants to start a business now must go to at least six state websites with varying levels of interaction, he said.

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 UNC and state court systems, would not come under the department.

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 in unveiling the department proposal.

A series of high-profile projects for Medicaid, food stamps, public education and tax return processing required more funds than budgeted, aren’t working as planned or were halted altogether. And there are redundant programs throughout state government.

McCrory has made overhauling information technology services and its interface with the public a priority. 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.

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 would still have control over how many computers or other technology their workers need and pay fees for these services and network use.

Key members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology supported the idea in principle. Estes’ presentation suggests the new model could save 10 to 20 percent from the state IT budget.

“We have a long list of where our current system has failed the state of North Carolina and cost us significant money,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell. Oversight panel co-chairman Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, said the change would put into state law what legislators have been telling agencies to do: work together.

Estes said the governor was briefed on the proposal. McCrory issued a November 2013 executive order demanding greater collaboration between Estes’s office and his Cabinet-level departments.

The legislature would have to approve a bill to create the Department of Information Technology. Information technology office spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco said the department also wouldn’t have control over other departments that are run by statewide elected officials other than McCrory. Those include the departments of agriculture, justice and insurance.

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