Florida's IT Office Vanishes

Jun 30, 2005 (11:06 AM EDT)

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Florida Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed legislation Monday that would have abolished the State Technology Office. Not that his action mattered. In the just-enacted state budget that takes effect Friday, lawmakers failed to provide the money to operate the IT agency.

The inaction by the Legislature means the elimination of 26 positions, including that of CIO Simone Marstiller, a former senior Bush aide, the Tallahassee Democrat reported Thursday. IT should continue to function smoothly with the transfer of 156 of the high-tech personnel to the Department of Management Services, the newspaper reports.

"I feel good about the things that we've accomplished," Marstiller told the Democrat. "I think the agencies are eager to work together to continue the good work we've done, and I have every confidence they will."

According to the newspaper, the agency was responsible for more than $1 billion in purchases and saw more than its share of controversy in its five-year existence. Problems included questions about bid-letting procedures and outsourcing contracts, as well as employees taking jobs at firms with whom they had negotiated state contracts.

Bush created the IT office with wide-ranging authority to direct state agencies on purchasing everything high-tech, including computers, phone systems, and software. He asked the Legislature to modify the role of the office, not eliminate it.

Instead of having one central agency that not only sets technology policy but also is in charge of implementing it, Bush's plan was to have the technology office provide big-picture guidelines and the Department of Management Services provide oversight as agencies make their own purchasing decisions, according to the Democrat.

But lawmakers weren't eager to fund an agency that hasn't had a good track record. Legislative auditors and oversight agencies have become increasingly critical of technology-outsourcing contracts the technology office signed under two previous directors, the newspaper said.

When Marstiller, a former inspector general and former assistant general counsel to Bush, took over last summer, she canceled $259 million in contracts and turned one over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after suspecting illegal bid-letting. The law-enforcement agency found no proof of criminal wrongdoing. "It's just not been a stellar agency, quite frankly, and the feeling was, let's turn the agency's functions over to DMS," House Speaker Allan Bense is quoted by the Democrat.

Marstiller told the paper that jobs at other state agencies have been found for nine of the displaced employees, and others are being sought. She said she plans to take some time off before seeking another job.

The governor, in his veto message, attributed the IT office's woes to turf wars among state agencies. "Our environment is naturally resistant to change," Bush said in the message. "Agencies struggle for control of their resources and attempts to centrally manage systems and resources often incite posturing by agencies to avoid losing valuable resources. The State Technology Office has worked hard to overcome these challenges by working as a partner in information-technology-related matters. Dissatisfaction with progress so far does not justify legislating the State Technology Office out of existence."