Politics & Government

State IT agencies proposing consolidation to build on 2011 mergers of agencies

Information technology functions from three Washington state-government agencies would be joined into one agency under a new IT consolidation plan being proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration.

The moves still need approval by the Legislature next year, and at least one lawmaker is skeptical.

The proposal would eliminate one state agency and would build on previous mergers from 2011 under then-Gov. Chris Gregoire who merged five agencies into three, officials say.

“It’s a fine-tuning of the state’s central IT organization,’’ said Ben Vaught, spokesman for the Office of the Chief Information Officer, whose agency would be merged with that of Consolidated Technology Services.

Later, IT functions now handled by the Department of Enterprise Services would be folded into the new consolidated agency.

It is not yet known whether the proposal would save money, eliminate jobs or result in more use of cloud-computing services instead of state-run data centers.

Approximately 20 employees work in the area at the Office of the Chief Information Officer that would be consolidated. Also affected would be 280 workers at Consolidated Technology Services and 250 at the Department of Enterprise Services. Employees at the agencies were alerted last week even though lawmakers do not convene in session to consider the concepts until January.

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, had pushed for stronger executive management of IT systems before the first merger. He expressed skepticism Monday that the merger proposal gets the state closer to becoming a smarter buyer of IT services or of delivering better value.

“We are taking modest steps forward, and there is real commitment to continually doing better, but we have in no way accomplished the goal of a top-notch IT system as a state. Given that technology is in our state’s DNA, that continues to be a source of unrelenting frustration,’’ Carlyle said.

“The lens for me is, is it going to reduce costs and make state government a smarter customer and service provider. Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes. Not input,’’ Carlyle said.

Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane had sponsored the original merger bill for Gregoire, and he had pushed for more contracting out of IT services to the private sector in the bill.

“My initial reaction is I’m interested but I’m also eager to see how the contracting piece plays a role in what they are proposing,’’ Baumgartner said by telephone from Spokane. “In general, I’m eager to learn more. Obviously I’d like to support anything that creates efficiencies.”

Vaught said Monday that consolidation is meant to improve service and is not a sign the previous consolidation failed in any way.

“When we talk about value in this, we are talking about making sure agencies do what they are uniquely best at doing and not overburdened by things they are not as good at — like racking servers and performing functions that a centralized IT organization should be performing,” he said.

The 2011 consolidations broke up the Department of Information Services, moving planning portions into the newly created Office of the Chief Information Officer and data-center utility functions into Consolidated Technology Services, while other state agencies were merged into the Department of Enterprise Services. Afterward, Enterprise Services took over the back-office functions for many small agencies including accounting and payroll, budgeting, contracting and human resources.

Exactly what would be transferred from the Department of Enterprise Services to the new agency needs to be sorted out, but obvious targets include the IT programs and help-desk functions that support those various programs that the Department of Enterprise Services manages.

Since the earlier merger, the Department of Enterprise Services has done a lot of consolidation on its own after inheriting more than 400 software applications that came under its jurisdiction. Spokesman Curt Hart said Enterprise Services has reduced the number of applications by about 108, while reducing 14 managers of 14 discrete IT teams to six managers and one united IT team. He said it has done a complete inventory of IT and downsized 12 IT help desks into one help desk known as the Solution Center.

The agency also replaced two applications that tracked legislative bills and staffers’ bill analyses with a single tracking system that went live for the 2014 legislative session.