By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Tuesday, two of the bills on the Republican Legislative Agenda were passed in the Senate. SB116 and SB117, known as the technology bills, passed with unanimous votes.
SB116 created the establishes the Alabama Technology Authority (ATA) whose job is to bring state agencies and departments funded through the General Fund (non-educational entities) into a more cohesive system, according to the bill, “…all executive branch department and agencies other state entities including authorities, boards, bureaus and commissions.”
The current systems are managed by the individual entities, most of which are not compatible with other systems at times making electronic communications between departments difficult. The ATA would establish standards and practices to bring all of the systems under a uniform plan.
Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), the sponsor of both bills, said, “It will increase the efficiency of state government. It will also insure, in my opinion, a safer state government because they will be able to coordinate their policies related to safety, security and continuity of operations whereas right now that is all done in the individual silos of state departments.”
This Authority is modeled after the Alabama Supercomputer Authority that has been successfully operating to the satisfaction of the education department. It has also shown as an “effective and efficient” information technology service.
Establishing the Authority promises to result in major savings. First through “buying in bulk,” the Authority will be able to save the state money by purchasing both IT equipment and software for the entire system from the same entities therefore reducing the amount spent for each additional license or piece of equipment. The second savings would come through reducing staff and outsourcing services. Although no current staff will be dismissed the eventual “natural” attrition of those employees will be replaced by third-party vendors. Those employed under the current system will be absorbed by the new authority and over time, through attrition, the number of employees will be decreased while the amount of outsourcing will be increased.
Williams said, “If you look at the model that we already have, the Supercomputer within education, they only have 15 employees and they outsource through third-party sources all of the IT needs that they administer with only 15 employees. You have 174 merit system employees in the ISD that run things on the General Fund side but they have no competitive contracting authority like what we are trying to establish. [Currently] if there is something in place that is not meeting the measure, there is no competitiveness to require someone prove the worth of that contract.”
Williams assured members that this would not mean dismissal of current employees that they will simply transfer into the new Authority. Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) insured this by attaching an amendment that addressed that issue as well as added a diversity statement to the requirements for the board.
The board, except for the initial board, will be appointed to a 4-year term and will have a CEO whose qualifications will be determined by the board. The Governor will determine the terms (from one to four years) for the initial board so that each year the one quarter of the board changes. “The Authority members are largely appointed by the Executive Branch and they are made up of both private and public sector entities. There is also the opportunity for department heads within state government to appoint people to the Board as well with the Governor’s approval,” said Williams.
SB117 establishes a Secretary of Information Technology and establishes a Joint Permanent Legislative Oversight Committee. The Secretary of Information Technology will act as a cabinet member to the Governor and also be the communicator and coordinator between entities.
Williams said, “The Governor wanted to make sure that there was a Secretary was in place first. So what we did was revised the bill to give the Secretary up to two years to build and to help coordinate the establishment of the Authority.”
Williams said that he believes that the state will begin to see savings immediately after the Authority is in place. “I think we will begin to see [the savings] right away. I don’t think there will be any delay in seeing the savings because once we have the Authority established it will begin looking for efficiencies within the current systems and you will automatically see savings. It will begin looking for efficiencies in procurement and licensing. All of those things that are currently done that are all over the board. Those will be immediate savings, then the employees are really a secondary issue. There are going to be savings in just having the Authority established and a central source for IT.”
Both bills now move to House committees.