Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part II
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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