Legislators seek to reform the state’s IT system with the influx of federal COVID aid money

Legislators seek to reform the state’s IT system with the influx of federal COVID aid money

During a nearly four-hour committee hearing Tuesday, lawmakers heard from the Office of Administration (OA) on why the state needs this update. Commissioner Sarah Steelman said the department was already working on updating the system before COVID.  As the pandemic has changed the world, modifications have also been made to how technology is used. One idea is to use the COVID-relief money to overhaul and re-create the state’s IT system. 

Steelman said now, OA can have a better view of updating and changing the system with federal dollars to spend. 

“Before COVID, we were moving in that direction anyway, wanting to make sure we started looking at customer journeys so we can design systems more responsive to customer and constituents,” Steelman said. 

“You’re really improving the way the state operates, makes it more efficient, makes it more responsive and it really helps who we serve,” Steelman said. 

State Budget Director Dan Haug told the House Subcommittee on Federal Stimulus Spending the federal government requires the money to be spent on certain things, like capital improvements. 

“We can’t put it in a rainy-day fund or a budget reserve fund,” Haug said. “We can’t pay debt with it and we can’t put any of it into pensions.”

Haug said the state is expected to receive $2.8 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). He expects the General Assembly to appropriate the money either later this year or during the governor’s recommended budget in January for it to be considered next fiscal year. 

Unlike the CARES Act funds that have to be spent by the end of this calendar year, Haug said ARPA funds must be obligated by 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. “So, these funds are likely to be spent starting July 1, 2022,” Haug said. 

“A lot of those we don’t know all the dates on when they have to be spent by and that’s what we are trying to figure out now as far as do we need a special session in the fall to get some of that money spent,” Haug said. 

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, told the committee an overhaul of the state IT system would benefit Missourians. 

“There’s no reason why a citizen who is having to do income verification should have to prove income verification two and three times,” Richey said. “Once they’ve done it, they should be able to have had already done that.”

The State’s Chief Information Officer Jeff Wann says due to the fast-acting IT employees in the state, labs were able to stay caught up with testing results during the pandemic. 

“In our labs, it used to be they [researchers] typed in lab reports coming in,” Wann said.

“Coming in so fast that if they continued to do that at the rate, they were doing it, it would take around $45,000 a day for people to manually put those in, but we were able to create a system that automatically ingested the test results without any touching.”

Wann said the state’s thought is to use a system that has been developed by multiple states to start off with, then down the road, Missouri could create its own program. 

Richey said it’s estimated to cost the state around $86 million to rebuild the state’s entire system, then costing Missouri another $36 million a year for maintenance. The overall goal is to create a portal with access to each state agency. 

“COVID-19 has been a terrible black cloud upon the whole world, but it also opened up opportunities to advance and no other area has probably advanced quite as much as in the area of IT,” Wann said. 

“The backend, our state employees have to have systems that are communicating effectively. They are not asking someone to email them a document then they have to print it and then fax it.”

“They can get what they need in terms of information, they can supply the information that is required of them as much as possible, free of frustration,” Richey said.

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