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OIT makes power grab ahead of Legislative approval

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Even before Legislation is passed to make the Office of Information Technology (OIT) a stand-alone agency under SB219, OIT Secretary Dr. Joanne Hale and her underlings have taken control of the Information Services Division (ISD) without Legislative approval, according to high-level sources. But this is just the beginning of a story which winds through the State’s top Law Enforcement agency, and four separate investigations before landing on lawmakers’ desks.

So confident that the Legislature will bend to their will, Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) and Governor Robert Bentley, Hale has received a nod to move quickly in reallocating staff, moving offices, and assuming control of the day-to-day operations of ISD.

The current statute places ISD under the Department of Finance. According to its website, “ISD professionals acquire and manage network and telecommunications services for all Executive Branch agencies, departments, boards, commissions, offices, and institutions for the State of Alabama.” In other words, they handle all technology needs from complex networks to the kind of telephones used by the Attorney General’s Office.

There are those inside Bentley’s administration who are expressing concern that he is engaged in an unprecedented power grab while thumbing his nose at the Legislative process. Bentley and Williams have solicited the help of Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) to push the bill through the upper chamber and temper any resistance.

One of Finance Director Clinton Carter’s first acts after hedging out Acting Finance Director Bill Newton and his assistant Rex McDowell was to ask that ISD be placed under OIT. However, this requires Legislation, but according to individuals inside the process, OIT staff are already managing ISD without proper legislative approval. According to these insiders, Hale’s top lieutenants Cheri Martin, Jim Purcell, and Mason Tanaka run ISD.

As new OIT Chief Operations Office, Purcell makes $165,000 which is more than most Agency Heads. Also, the Chief Information Security Officer, Tanaka earns $120,000 annually. The Chief Enterprise Architect, Robert Hogan makes $122,000 with more high-end salaried personnel to come on board after ISD transfers to OIT.

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Hale, who is a tenured employee of the University of Alabama, continues to receive her $220,000 salary which is reimbursed to the University by the State. However, Hale’s pension and other benefits are the financial responsibility of the University.

After APR revealed that Hale holds two jobs, she expressed her irritation about the disclosure at an agency-wide meeting.

Hale has repeatedly expressed frustration at leaks coming out of her office since APR disclosed the massive failure of the STAARS accounting software under her leadership. According to APR’s sources, Hale has demanded to know who is leaking information to the media; she also asked for suggestions on how to discredit “the blogger” [Britt].

Threats to discredit the media are serious allegations. As a result, APR contacted Bentley’s Office. Rather than the request for clarification being answered by Communications Director Yasmine August as usual, Bentley’s Deputy Legal Advisor Jason Paulk responded: “Dr. Hale is not seeking information or ‘suggestions’ for the purpose of discrediting a journalist or the media in general.”

Paulk’s email says “OIT serves a multitude of agencies, including the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) which is linked to both the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center (ACJIS) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).”

The reference to ALEA and its powerful Law Enforcement databases is unexpected, especially given the history of this Administration reportedly using such tools to discredit political enemies, as alleged by former ALEA Chief Spencer Collier, who Bentley and others in his inner circle worked to destroy by press leaks and public statements.

As for ALEA’s relationship with OIT insiders suggest a haunting tale of intrigue whereby the Statewide Law Enforcement agency through intimidation gain sway over the organization.

One event transpired after ISD Director, James Nolin took command of the organization. As reported earlier by APR, Nolin, while still in his probation period, was removed by the Governor for unspecified charges. Nolin is now attempting to sue the State claiming wrongful termination. It was during his short reign that ALEA pushed for separation from the State network and used a “network security” ploy to their advantage. They claimed that their network “could possibly” be compromised if any employees could not pass a comprehensive FBI background check; a procedure that was not the Department of Finance’s protocol.

ALEA Director Stan Stabler lobbied the Governor’s Office for a complete background check of all Finance IT employees and later all IT employees throughout the State according to high-level staff present at the time of the incident. It is notable that no other classification of the employee was required to pass the background check. During tis period two Finance ISD contract workers were found unable to pass this scrutiny, reportedly, due to conditions that occurred in their teen years. Sources say these same workers passed the standard background checks used by most US employment agencies. However, ALEA insisted on full FBI (lifetime) incident reviews. According to these sources, ALEA used its power of intimidation to leverage control over Finance to give ALEA final say on employment of some IT staff.

Other investigations occurred over the passed 18 months with no changes having been made against to date, other than incompetence.

With Legislation still pending and given the problems surrounding the implementation of some many expensive programs failing under OIT, it is causing some lawmakers to question whether giving OIT more authority under SB 219 is wise.

See summary of OIT failures.

 

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