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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Getting a closer look at IT spending

OLYMPIA – Tucked inside the 291-page budget Gov. Jay Inslee signed last week is a paragraph that tells state agencies to ask for money for new-fangled tech gear a better way.

It’s what’s known as a proviso, sort of a marching order from the Legislature, somewhat akin to an earmark from Congress. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

. . . Many budget provisos tell an agency to spend a certain amount on a particular program in a specific district, which helps solidify a wavering vote for the entire budget from the legislator representing that district.

If you’re shocked by such political maneuvering, it’s time you woke up and smelled the triple-shot latte. For all the intoning about how budgets are “statements of principle” when they come to the House or Senate floor, they are really statements of income and outgo. Legislators who don’t pay enough attention to money being spent on the folks who elect them find themselves unelected.

So it’s good to see a proviso designed, instead, to help legislators keep a closer eye on spending. That’s the goal of Sec. 129, condition (8), which says, essentially, that when a state agency asks for money for information technology equipment, it has to put all those requests on a single summary sheet, ranked by priority, with costs and a timeline to get the equipment, and to get it up and running.

It may surprise some people with a business bent that this isn’t standard operating procedure for a state with dozens of agencies of various sizes, thousands of employees and a seemingly endless need for updated cell phones, computers, servers and other hardware and software needed to navigate the Information Age. But in the past, requests for IT equipment and upgrades, which could total five, six or even seven figures, were just included as line items in the overall budget documents.

And that, said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, prompted some agencies to get somewhat creative when asking for IT, knowing chances were good that legislators pouring through stacks and stacks of budget proposals were unlikely to go through each line with a fine-toothed comb.

One year, an agency allegedly included a request for a bus within its IT requests. And got it funded. (As a reporter who often does his most creative writing in expense accounts, I admit being impressed.)

Parker, who had his first taste of behind-the-scenes budget discussions in the last session, helped come up with the proviso after folks in the Office of the Chief Information Officer explained how IT requests could use more scrutiny.

David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, said he hadn’t heard “the-bus-as-IT” story. But he believes the proviso will help agencies and the Legislature prioritize the money being spent on information technology, which has been growing rapidly in recent decades. If money’s tight, the Legislature will have a better idea of what shouldn’t make the cut.

“IT has become such a big, diverse thing through the years,” Schumacher said. “I think it became time to put our arms around it.”

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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