Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II

A look behind the scenes and OSS in Texas: why is the media ignoring it and how did Houston buck the system?

Texas state agencies spend more than $450 million annually on information technology, not counting staffing costs and purchases from local or federal funds. With this amount of money in play, Texas is a significant target for hardware, software and technical support vendors.

Key Texans believe state and local governments should embrace Linux and open-source software (OSS) to reduce taxes. The local media decided differently and did not inform the general public about OSS initiatives in the legislature. This is especially odd, as the Houston Chronicle runs Linux on an IBM mainframe and the city administrators made the front page of USA Today for bucking Microsoft. In addition to the Chronicle, the parent of the Dallas Morning News, Belo Corporation, uses Linux to host web sites and invested heavily in :CueCat, a product driven by the Linux operating system. So, advocates of the OSS bill feel baffled.

Specifically, when Texas Senator John Carona filed SB 1579, a bill to make the state consider OSS, the media remained silent. Most voters did not have a clue that the State Auditor's Office put annual IT spending at $1.4 billion. But, those costs did not escape Senator Carona.

Who Has Fiscal Responsibility?

The Texas State Auditor's office looked at the state's 21 largest IT projects; they found that average project deficiency was $388,000 over budget and 21 months behind schedule. Those numbers did not include the cost of the TIERS project, which came in $349 million over budget and 37 months overdue. Still, no media coverage was given.

Budget deficits caused state legislators to eliminate critical programs this year. How did the Department of Information Resources (DIR) escape budget cuts? License fees on $450 million servers alone should be a prime candidate to look at for savings. Texans still failed to see any media coverage.

Not All as It Seems?

The much-maligned Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has computers ranging from six to eight years in age. Microsoft, a major technology vendor in the state, claimed that TDCJ owed them millions of dollars. The problem: the state only requires agencies to keep records for five years.

Microsoft believed its license requirements exceed those of state law. They demanded TDCJ produce receipts, agree to an expensive licensing arrangement or face millions of dollars of fines. The TDCJ audit showed a shortage of 2,000 licenses due to lack of receipts, and the cost of replacing those licenses was $280,000. As Microsoft's new suggested licensing arrangement did not fit TDCJ's budget, TDCJ instead sent Microsoft a check for $283,000.

But, if spending exceeds $450 million annually, why does TDCJ use old computers? Also, how does this busy agency get by with those computers?

Would Shareholders Tolerate This?

The State Comptroller's office noted five canceled IT projects worth $28 million. Total project losses equated to 86% of our $450 million annual spending. Funding for the losses and overruns came from federal or local tax dollars.

The Comptroller published recommendations for the budget on the State's web site prior to this year's Legislative session. Among other points, she noted the “Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) should be held accountable for the success of major agency information technology (IT) projects. The Program Management Office (PMO) within DIR is not meeting its legislative mandates.”

In another excerpt, the Comptroller wrote, “The TexasOnline Division should help DIR redesign its Web site to make it easier for visitors to find information and to provide a public software clearinghouse to help reduce commodity software purchasing costs.”

For the full text of the report, see “Limited Government, Unlimited Opportunity, January 2003”. The citations mentioned above come from the section titled “General Government Consolidate or Eliminate Agencies or Programs”, under GG 18.

Should Voters and Taxpayers Tolerate This?

The above information has not reached the public through traditional media. Considering the plethora of Linux and OSS successes Texas has had, again this lack of coverage seems strange. With plentiful workers, a depression in the IT job market and extensive Linux resources, what would Texans say if they knew what was happening?

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I'm still in shock over the

Doctor Carter's picture

I'm still in shock over the fact that in this age of Internet and technology, that outdated companies who are shipping outdated DOS systems or antiquated, clunky behemoths of Windows-based software code are still managing to sell their software to companies. At my Texas technical school, all of the computer systems that we have running are all based on 'Nix code.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II

Anonymous's picture

Texas is not the only state where the media is ignoring huge software problems. Nebraska is in the same boat if what some folks are telling me is true. Their "new" NIS system was supplied on 10 year old AS-400s and uses the JD Edwards "World One" software database system, accessed by Internet Explorer (required). The deal cost $28 million up front and $400K/year support. Code modifications are extra. The package is supposed to be customizable by the clerks who use it, but when it rolled out I heard the staff was in shock. While the rest of the world is using state of the art hardware and software, Nebraska takes a giant leap back into the 1980s. The word is that the staff was told they couldn't modify the software to fit their procedures, so they will have to modify their procedures to fit the software.
Someone made a nice commission off that sale, but the citizens of Nebraska, with the State already almost $1B short in revenues, willl be paying that bill for a LONG time to come. I wonder how many jobs it will cost?

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II

Anonymous's picture

In corroborating information in the article, Belo doesn't have a problem with Linux. Their technology editor confirmed that they followed the bill but did not report on it. Recently, Belo recruited for admins with Linux experience.

DigitalConvergence states "The dream was to connect items in the physical world to the Internet, automatically."

They also say "If you have a Cue Cat, save it. The patents and technology created by DigitalConvergence will again be available for business and consumer use."

Publicity about Cue Cats being used as a bar code scanner for Linux could have led people to another conclusion.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II

Anonymous's picture

You write that :CueCat was driven by Linux.
That's kind of a strange statement; as far as I know,
Digital Convergence's business plan didn't count
on Linux at all. They hated the fact that people
were writing Linux drivers for the CutCat.
In fact, the experience might have turned Belo Corporation
against Linux.

For further reading:
http://www.providencephoenix.com/archive/features/01/02/08/BELO.html
and
http://www.flyingbuttmonkeys.com/foocat/

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II

Anonymous's picture

I think they mean that the server computers that ran the :CueCat database ran on Linux machines. Certainly the :CueCat peripheral itslef did not directly support Linux machines.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II

Anonymous's picture

That's my understanding also. The servers ran on Linux and the cue cat had peripheral drivers for MS.

Re: Information sorely needed on NYC situation...

Anonymous's picture

What is the situation in NYC?

As far as I am aware, if you take a look at NYC connectivity spending, Verizon has enjoyed a virtual monopoly as a supplier who gets work without having to compete with other businesses for the most part, and has a market share above 80% and possibly above 90% for decades. Just recently, a report hit the public that said that more of the purchasing for connectivity should be put out to bid, and the connectivity of the NYC agencies should be leveraged into a wan for all city residents, businesses, and agencies.

So what is the situation with software procurement in NYC? NYC is by far a much larger end user of software than just about any city or state, excepting probably california.

I have seen NYC council meetings where the Dept of Information Technology (I believe that is correct) and other agencies have hinted at the very favorable licensing arrangement with microsoft. And from my subjective reading of the tone and attitude of the comments during those hearings, it appears that the DOIT and other agencies simply don't want the irritation of FOSS, when it may rock the boat and the very favorable pricing deal of the software, or the irritation of having to hire competent FOSS administrators, replacing the point and click dinosaurs on staff.

I am also aware that when a project to replace servers and desktops at one legislators office was pitched, microsoft came and simply low bid the project, and effectively killed what would have been a model example of what FOSS can do for government, and everything related to that. It preserved the lock in of microsoft at that location, and killed any hope of opening the eyes of legislators.

So what is the story with NYC and microsoft? More specifically, what is the story with NYC schools and microsoft, NYC government and microsoft, and has microsoft ever put the audit gun to the head of NYC?

If linux is good enough for bloomberg, why isn't it good enough for NYC?

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