Lawmakers seek to overhaul state IT system with influx of federal COVID relief money

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri will receive nearly $3 billion dollars in COVID relief money later this year and some lawmakers already know what they want to spend those federal dollars on. 

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. 

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. 

“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. 

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

“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. 

“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. 

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. 

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. 

“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. 

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. 

“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.

“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.”

Steelman said, for now, the plan is to do an enterprise approach for state government, offering each agency a chance to use the new IT system in hopes of minimizing the issues.

Haug told the committee there are three categories for now that the federal government requires states to use the money for. First is responding to the public health emergency and economic impacts, which he said are entities that directly deal with COVID.

Second, Revenue loss, which is where he believes the state can use the money to update the IT system and third, water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. He said it would be up to the General Assembly to allocate money to each category. 

Richey said he wants a special session later this year around September to get the ball rolling on improving the state’s IT system because “Constituents are frustrated.”

Wann told members of the committee it could take as long as five or six years to overhaul Missouri’s IT system. 

According to the Missouri Auditor’s website, the state has received $4.66 billion of COVID-19 relief money from the federal government as of Monday and has spent $4.37 billion of that.

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