BY PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Information technology operations of all state agencies would be consolidated under an appointed board and the work would shift from state employees to private companies under a bill unanimously approved by the Alabama Senate Tuesday.
The Senate voted 31-0 for the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Phil Williams of Gadsden. Senators also voted 32-0 for a companion bill by Williams that would create a secretary of information technology in the governor's Cabinet. Both bills now go to the House for consideration.
Government consolidation is a priority of the Senate's Republican leadership this session, and the two IT bills were the first considered. Next up are bills for law enforcement and legislative services.
Williams said many state agencies operate their own computer operations like silos, and they don't use money-saving features like bulk purchasing and licensing of computer programs. His main bill would set up an appointed board called the Alabama Technology Authority to serve the information technology needs of the state's non-education education agencies. It would assume the computer work now done by the Data Systems Management Division of the state Finance Department and have the power to bring more coordination to the state's varied operations.
Williams said the authority would work much like the Alabama Supercomputer Authority, which serves educational programs from kindergarten to college.
He said the Finance Department operates with 174 IT employees, while the Alabama Supercomputer Authority has 15 because it contracts most of its work to private companies through a competitive process.
"The point is competition breeds savings and that is what we need," he said. But he said his bill provides for reducing state employees through attrition rather than layoffs.
A study done by Auburn University Montgomery estimated state agencies spend $317 million annually on IT operations, and it forecast annual savings at $32 million to $64 million, based on experiences in similar states.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley supported the bill creating the Cabinet secretary, but he wanted legislators to hold up on the other bill pending more study. Despite his concerns, the Senate passed both bills with less than two hours of discussion.
"What just happened was huge," said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
After Republicans won control of the Legislature in the November 2010 election, Marsh got lawmakers to start the Initiative to Streamline Government and hire the Center for Government and Public Affairs at Auburn University Montgomery to research ideas. The IT bills resulted from that study.