Monday, May 16, 2011
A controversy earlier this year involving emails at the state Department of Education provided a glimpse into just how badly Oklahoma’s information technology system needs to be reworked. It’s clear, however, that moving the system into the 21st century promises to be a long slog indeed.
Shortly after the new state schools superintendent took office in January, it was discovered that emails by former Superintendent Sandy Garrett had been permanently deleted before she left office. An employee said Garrett told her to delete the account, something Garrett disputed. Not up for dispute was that the agency uses an email program the state’s chief information officer, Alex Pettit, called “terribly archaic.”
The program also was different from most other state agencies, which is no great surprise. In her state of the state speech, Gov. Mary Fallin said some state institutions were “outdated eight-track bureaucracies in an iPod world” and she called for consolidation of Internet technology services. This job would fall to Pettit, hired a year ago by former Gov. Brad Henry, if only legislators would get around to clearing the way.
When the job of chief information officer was created in 2009, supporters estimated that person could find millions in savings in the first two years. Fallin’s budget proposal for this year called for savings through consolidation of IT services and personnel, and she sought a $100 million bond issue for IT purposes.
Any savings would be helpful in a year when the state faces a $500 million shortfall. But legislators, no doubt tugged at by agencies that prefer the status quo, haven’t approved anything allowing for these changes. If something were to happen in the waning days of the session, which legislative leaders say is still a possibility, any savings wouldn’t accrue until down the road but at least we’d be headed in the right direction.
Fallin also requested a $50 million freeze in IT spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30; lawmakers yawned at that proposal, too.
House Speaker Kris Steele says there’s high interest in modernizing and right-sizing government, and that savings generated through doing those things will play a larger role in next year’s budget. We’ll believe that when we see it.
Pettit, 45, brings solid experience to the job. He worked in the IT field in the private sector before becoming chief technology officer for the city of Denton, Texas, where he spent 10 years. Then it was on to Brown University for a year, ensuring that its IT systems were secure during renovation of the school’s data center.
There’s little doubt the state’s move toward IT consolidation would be in capable hands if Pettit and his staff were given a real opportunity to effect change. The Legislature have done taxpayers no favors by failing to act on this issue.
Editorial from The Oklahoman