Widespread complaints about state IT office prompt study

Posted Oct. 19, 2011, at 7:47 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 19, 2011, at 9:30 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee has unanimously voted to have the Office of Information Technology studied after complaints about its cost and the way it operates.

“We have heard a lot of complaints from other agencies and there are many questions we need to get answers to,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the committee. He offered the motion to skip the usual assessment process the committee uses and place the study directly on the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability’s work list.

“I know on [the] Appropriations [Committee] we could use the kind of information this study will provide,” he said. Katz is also a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, co-chairman of the oversight committee, agreed and said the technology office was created in 2005 as a way to centralize computer purchases and maintenance of information technology systems and to save money. He said there have been comments from many agencies across state government that those goals have not been met.

“This is an agency where if things go right it can be very good for the state and if it goes bad, it is going to be very bad for the state,” Burns said.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said he has several concerns about the way the office is managed stemming from his service as co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the last two-year session of the Legislature.

“If any agency needs review, this is one that must,” he said. “There are some systematic problems that require us to take a look at this.”

Diamond also said he is not sure the consolidation of all information technology services has achieved its goals.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, said there have been complaints since the consolidation first started and many agencies in state government have complained about the service.

“I certainly hear the complaints, internally, from middle-level management, about both the consolidation of power and money in that organization,” Trahan said.

In an interview last month, Steve Giguere, director of the Office of Weights and Measures, said he was frustrated in his dealings with the office, namely at the limited usefulness of the record-keeping system used to store inspection records by his agency.

“I am told we can get some information if we have a programmer at [the Office of Information Technology] do it,” he said. “I am not an IT person, but I don’t know why it is so difficult.”

Giguere was asked if he could access the data on gas station inspections to see if there was a trend of pumps having serious errors. He said he could provide the inspection report for a station but the data could not be searched to find out how many stations had errors over a period of time.

Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb said last week his office is working with the technology office to acquire a system that will track inspections his agency does in a database system able to answer such questions.

OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft said the Office of Information Technology’s budget is more than $72 million a year and also noted that IT has become crucial to government operations. She said her office may have to contract for consultants to help and will have a proposed budget for the study next month.

“This is a significant agency and this will be a major study for us,” she said.

The study has the support of the Department of Finance and Administration. Deputy Commissioner David Emery said he has been asking a lot of questions of the technology office for several weeks about how they operate and why they conduct business the way they do.

The office operates the state phone system among other technologies and Emery said the billing system is so complex that the state has hired an outside consultant to develop a new billing system.

“I see this proposed OPEGA study as being one of the most useful contributions to this problem that I could recommend,” he said.

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