Texas 2036 testifies on IT investment needs

The following excerpt is adapted from written testimony by Texas 2036 Manager of Policy and Advocacy Hope Osborn, which was delivered to the House Joint Oversight Committee on Investment in Information Technology Improvement on Aug. 30, 2022. Watch it here.

What to Know:

  • The $200 million invested into the Technology Improvement and Modernization, or TIM, Fund in 2021 is an important down-payment toward a long-term problem.
  • The five-year IT modernization plans state agencies are now required to complete after the passage of 87(R) House Bill 4018 will help scope the real challenges faced by agencies instead of only addressing immediate needs or reacting to crises.
  • The additional $44 billion budget projection for the 88th Legislative Session provides a great opportunity to increase money to the TIM Fund, either through general revenue, unused federal dollars, the Economic Stabilization Fund, or a long-term funding vehicle.

The Joint Oversight Committee on Investment in Information Technology Improvement and Modernization Projects was created by House Bill (HB) 4018 during the 87th Legislative Session to oversee the newly created TIM Fund and review investment and funding strategies for projects to improve or modernize state agencies’ information resource technologies. 

In short, it is designed to ensure that the state government has the necessary information technology to provide services for citizens efficiently and protect their data from cyberattacks. Many state agencies still have IT from the 80s, 90s or 2000s and are expected to keep up with modern demands.

Texas 2036 commends Chairman Capriglione’s and the 87th Legislature for passing HB 4018 and appropriating $200 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds to the TIM Fund. Additionally, the 2022-23 General Appropriations Act allocated over $800 million in IT funding to address a variety of projects identified in the Priority Cybersecurity and Legacy Systems report. 

With the incoming Legislature having the largest surplus in Texas’ history – an additional $44 billion from the General Revenue Fund ($27 billion), the Economic Stabilization Fund ($14 billion) and unused ARPA funds ($3 billion) – to write next biennium’s budget, there is an opportunity to make long-term investment solutions for IT modernization and cybersecurity. 

Up until the establishment of the committee last year, the Legislature had an ad hoc approach of appropriating funding for IT modernization and cybersecurity projects. Historically, the Legislature has relied on Agency Legislative Appropriations Requests and the Priority Cybersecurity and Legacy Systems report to determine the projects that are prioritized for funding. While this should still be the basis, Texas 2036 hopes that this committee will bring a perspective shift to strategic, multi-year planning.

Each technological request that took longer than two years to implement was subject to mid-project halted funding if the Legislature did not renew funding every biennium. Or, if an unexpected crisis or cyberattack occurred that needed state funding to remedy, the agency would have to wait until a legislative session to address those funding needs.

Some of this will be alleviated with a proactive focus versus reactive planning. HB 4018 ensures that state agencies provide five-year plans for IT modernization if they have over 150 full-time employees. The bill also created the Joint Oversight Committee on Investment in Information Technology Improvement, which was based on another joint oversight committee created in the 84th Legislative session to address the deferred maintenance backlog called the Joint Oversight Committee on Government Facilities

During that session, about $500 million was transferred from general revenue and deposited into a newly created fund specifically for deferred maintenance. The Legislature then appropriated this funding to agencies selected by the Committee as most in need. The committee monitored the projects and made recommendations for future appropriations before it dissolved after two sessions.

While the investments made last session into IT modernization and cybersecurity were substantial and desperately needed, they were not a one-time solution.  Texas 2036 supports continued dedication into the TIM fund to ensure that each state agency has the technology they need to fight off cyber criminals and efficiently provide services to the citizens of Texas.

With the emphasis shifting to future planning, the committee has the opportunity to rethink what were previously thought of as unattainable solutions. One example is an overhaul of the Department of Family and Protective Services’ data system called IMPACT. No longer in line with federal standards and one of five states not to have an updated system, IMPACT is now ineligible to receive federal funding.

The state continues to appropriate money to this broken system, which requires an inordinate amount of staff time to submit the same data multiple times in a disorganized way that a U.S. District judge once decried as putting children at “an unreasonable risk of harm.” With this committee able to focus on long-term solutions, an overhaul of IMPACT could be considered to ultimately save the state time, money, and better track vulnerable children.

While we await the five-year plans from state agencies and Agency Legislative Appropriations Requests for the 88th Session, Texas 2036 looks forward to supporting this Committee and the Legislature by continuing to identify long-term funding solutions for state IT and cybersecurity projects.  

For additional references, check out the following Texas 2036 report and blogs: