by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
In Governor McCrory’s Recommended Budget for the 2015-17 biennium, he suggested the creation of a cabinet-level department, the Department of Information Technology (IT). Whenever the government suggests creating a new department or agency, it must weigh the cost of creating the department, including the addition of new bureaucracies, with the potential benefits. Some areas may need to be consolidated into a department to achieve budgetary savings or government efficiency, while others may benefit from minor organizational changes.
The first formal examination of information technology in state government was in 1969. Governor Bob Scott signed an executive order that created a committee to look into the effective use of computers and related equipment in state agencies. After much debate and concern over the growing use of technology, the Division of Information Technology and the position of State Chief Information Officer (CIO) were created in 1999. Today, state government has thousands of information technology systems, including multiple customized versions of the same systems in different locations, despite various attempts to consolidate IT over the last 15 years.
Every year the State Controller issues a report detailing expenditures on Information Technology in the state. This is necessary because, unlike other areas of state government where similar functions are housed and budgeted within the same department or agency, IT operations are independent entities. Total IT expenditures in North Carolina for fiscal year 2013-14 were approximately $1.5 billion. The chart below shows the breakdown of IT expenditures in North Carolina.
Efforts to consolidate or coordinate the state’s information processing resources have been discussed since 1983, when the first Computer Commission was created. In 2013, Gov. McCrory issued an executive order to "fix and modernize IT governance in cabinet agencies by collaborating as one IT." In December of 2014, State CIO Chris Estes recommended that the General Assembly restructure the state’s IT resources by establishing a cabinet-level agency, the Department of Information Technology. A few months later, he included details of the proposed agency in the biennial state IT plan, which was submitted in conjunction with the governor’s budget for the 2015-17 biennium. According to the proposed budget, the new Department of Information Technology would replace the Office of Information Technology Services and the Office of the State CIO.
Should the state create a new department for IT? Since the early 1980s there have been two recurring themes during discussions of information technology needs — consolidation of IT functions and spending IT funds wisely. Information technology demands an immediate response with the state’s extensive reliance on technology and the potential for security breaches. There have been many attempts to manage the state’s IT through commissions and the creation of its own division, but comprehensive reform cannot be accomplished under the existing constraints. The creation of a Department of Information Technology would consolidate disparate operations and break down current bureaucratic barriers between agencies, while also creating ways for increased government efficiency and cost savings.
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