Smart Uses of Federal Funds to Modernize State IT Saves Money and Improves Services

At Texas 2036, we’ve had a simple message for how the state should spend nearly $16 billion of federal funding: Solve a Problem.  A lot of attention has been paid to some of the larger options on the table, but we’d also like to highlight some of the smaller proposals on the table that represent a smart use of federal money to improve our government’s ability to perform adequately by updating IT resources and prevent recurring costs.

Note: Because this blog is being posted between second and third readings of the House floor debate for appropriating these funds, the analysis below largely focuses on the Senate version.

Cybersecurity — Technology Improvement & Modernization Fund

The Senate version of SB 8 allocates $200 million to the Department of Information Resources (DIR) for the purpose of cybersecurity projects.  The money would flow into the Technology Improvement and Modernization Fund, which was a special fund in the state treasury created by HB 4018 in the regular session earlier this year. The purpose of the fund is to “improve and modernize stage agency information resources.”  HB 4018’s author, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione summarized the need for this funding to Katya Maruri at Govtech

We have various mainframes in Texas running critical pieces of software that have been around since the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “It’s ridiculous and completely insecure. These systems are inefficient and require specialized support services to keep them running, so what we’ve been trying to do is modernize these systems.

Healthcare — Medicaid & CHIP IT Updates

Section 17 of the Senate version of SB 8 allocates $20 million to the Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC) for the purpose of creating a consolidated internet portal for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a state program for insurance for children from many lower-income families. The purpose of the portal is to streamline enrollment, credentialing and data management for medical providers in both programs. By streamlining this process, burdens will be reduced on providers, hopefully increasing the number of providers who enroll, and the agency will be better able to evaluate network sufficiency in these programs.  

Section 18 of the Senate version of SB 8 allocates $5 million to HHSC to update their Medicaid eligibility computer system. The update will allow new enrollees to sign up for their health plan directly on day one.  Currently, enrollees are initially temporarily placed into a costly fee-for-service system. Most enrollees (94%) later choose a managed care organization (MCO) as their health insurer. By eliminating the need for temporary enrollment into fee-for-service, the state will be able to reduce costs on the fee-for-service programs, and enrollees will see reduced administrative red tape in enrolling, and medical providers will face less complexity in managing their billing operations. 

Justice and Safety — Child Advocacy Center IT Needs

In the current Senate version, $1.2 million of the federal funds in SB 8 would be going to information technology for the children’s advocacy centers (CACs) across Texas.  These CACs provide statutorily required services for children that are victims of sexual abuse, child sex trafficking, severe physical abuse, or a witness to a traumatic crime such as murder or suicide.  CACs partner with and share information as authorized by statute with law enforcement, Department of Family and Protective Services, and prosecution to provide vital services to child victims and families.  Currently, CACs spend over 15,000 hours every year manually entering data from DFPS Statewide Intake into the current case management system. 

With this one-time federal funding, CACs could update their current and outdated IT system to create a more coordinated and integrated statewide approach to case management. This system would allow data from outside entities to automatically populate into the system, freeing up valuable CAC staff time. Instead of manually entering data, CAC staff would then be able to provide more direct services to victims. 

In addition to redirecting CAC staff time to direct services, an updated system would allow for a more efficient and comprehensive tracking system to better report data to the state, monitor concerning trends on the local level for faster resolution, and should improve the timeliness in serving victims thereby improving outcomes.  An updated system will also provide CACs the agility needed to adapt to new demands and integrate data from other partners and systems.

While outlays in the millions don’t receive as much attention in the days of multi-trillion-dollar proposals, these targeted investments can have significant impacts on the lives and livelihoods of Texans. Texas 2036 will continue to monitor the movement of the federal funds legislation during the waning days of the third special session and is encouraged by legislative focus on IT modernization needs.

Charles Miller is a Senior Policy Advisor at Texas 2036. Hope Osborn is a Policy Analyst at Texas 2036.