story by Taylor Dobbs, data by Hilary Niles / Vermont Public Radio
The use of technology in Vermont state government went from a background concern to a political flashpoint throughout the troubled rollout of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance exchange. None of the state’s IT projects receive the same level of public scrutiny, but information technology in state government is ubiquitous and makes up a significant — yet unknown — portion of the state’s budget every year.
A Vermont Public Radio investigation has found that it’s nearly impossible for Vermonters to know how much of their tax money goes toward IT operations in the state, how successful IT projects are in meeting state needs, or how well state agencies follow defined protocols for state contracts.
Using available records, interviews and dozens of documents released in response to multiple records requests, VPR built a comprehensive data base of IT projects across state government. The documents and interviews showed:
- Despite efforts to improve transparency, there is no way for state officials or the public to track the total amount of money spent by the state government on information technology. The most accurate available information shows that the state could spend nearly $1 billion or more on IT projects over the next five years.
- The state has increased oversight for IT projects in recent years, allowing the Department of Information and Innovation (DII) to monitor and even cancel projects from the time a department launches the procurement process to the finished product.
- Although increased oversight provides more opportunities for DII officials to identify problems with an IT project, there’s still no way to know how successful these projects are in meeting their stated goals.
- Specific protocols for state purchasing have been in place since 2008. Yet the state agencies tasked with ensuring those protocols are followed have never used their authority to audit compliance, making it difficult to know if agencies are following best practices as defined by the state itself.