The Word in the House 2/2/2017 - Keeping an Eye on IT

Legislation dealing with money, whether it is raising it or spending it, is often contentious and always a challenge. When the state raises money through taxes and fees, we as taxpayers want to see that it is well spent. It should be used to promote the common good, be used efficiently, and accomplish the purpose for which it is being used. This requires oversight by the legislature as well as the administration. The legislature several years ago adopted Results Based Accountability (RBA) which requires agencies to report on the results of the programs and services they provide, including how much was done, how well it was done, and whether anyone is better off. One area that has received limited oversight, however, has been the various computer systems and projects which have had mixed success with implementation. Both the legislature and the Scott administration have taken steps to address this area of concern.

One of the first orders of business for newly elected Speaker Mitzi Johnson was to establish the House Energy and Technology Committee which would have as one area of responsibility the oversight of Vermont’s Information Technology (IT) infrastructure. At nearly the same time, Governor Scott issued an executive order to change the model of the Department of Information and Innovation (DII), which had nominal responsibility for IT, and create a new Agency of Digital Services.

Up to now the administration of the various IT systems has had two parallel structures responsible for purchasing, development and management. Some of this authority is centralized under DII and some rests with the agencies the systems support. In addition, about 30% of the systems are administered independently under control of the statewide elected officials like the Secretary of State or the Treasurer. As a result, there may be duplication of effort, poor project management, and reliance on outdated legacy systems which are costly to support. In the meantime, the legislature has had little insight to the operation of the IT projects and systems but must appropriate money to fund them.
In order to improve the coordination, procurement and governance of technology and IT resources and spending, and more efficiently deliver services to the public, the executive order would have all IT projects report directly to the Agency of Digital Services while project managers and developers remain embedded in and report dotted-line to the agencies they serve.

The history of state IT projects has had mixed results, with the problems of Vermont Health Connect illustrative of the public perception of dollars not well spent. A joint hearing was conducted by the Energy & Technology, Institutions, and Health Care Committees to hear a report from an independent auditor on the current status of Vermont Health Connect. The recommendation of the audit report was that problems remain with automation of some functions involving communications with billing and insurance providers. However, they determined that the best solution is to continue work on improving VHC after analyzing a half dozen other alternatives including moving to the federal system. On top of their findings they noted that the uncertain fate of the federal Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration injects an unknown factor into the equation for Vermont’s health care system. It will be up to the legislature working with the Governor to successfully navigate through this uncharted territory.

As always, I invite you to let me know your concerns and opinions. I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (