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Governor proposes to overhaul state’s tech systems, focusing on security

The new tech czar would be a member of Governor Charlie Baker’s Cabinet.
The new tech czar would be a member of Governor Charlie Baker’s Cabinet.(Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File 2017)

Call it Massachusetts 2.0.

In an effort to better consolidate, streamline, and secure the state’s technology services, Governor Charlie Baker is proposing a new secretary of technology to supervise IT across much of state government.

That includes databases used to track medical marijuana patients by the Department of Public Health, tax-filing systems at the Department of Revenue, and the system that analyzes standardized test scores for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The tech czar would be a member of the Cabinet, joining eight other appointed leaders — from education to health and human services — who together oversee more than 40,000 executive branch employees and billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded spending.

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Administration officials say Massachusetts lags behind other states and the private sector in securing information technology systems. They say previous efforts to centralize the state’s IT infrastructure, dating back to 2002, have fallen short. Thus, the reboot.

A state technology agency, MassIT, already exists within the governor’s budget office. But it does not supervise many aspects of technology in state government.

“Despite these targeted activities, only a small portion of the centralization goal was achieved, leaving the Commonwealth even more vulnerable than before,” an internal administration memo obtained by the Globe says. “We expect this new effort will improve security and services delivery for all.”

With the state budget facing a half-billion-dollar gap, the memo addresses whether the reorganization is a cost-saving exercise. “No,” it says. “Additional investments are being made to ensure we are fully secure and modernized. This is an effort to improve security, which requires adopting best practices and implementing modern technology platforms, all of which will have the added benefit of also improving quality of service.”

Administration officials say the effort will probably save money over the long term.

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For example, an employee in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services would no longer call an HHS information technology number if a computer breaks. Instead, he or she would call a single help desk line responsible for triaging problems across the executive branch.

An administration spokeswoman said implementation costs would range from $5 million to $11 million annually but said the effort would save taxpayer dollars over time.

There is money for upgrading technology in Baker’s capital budget, the plan for long-term projects and maintenance funded primarily by borrowing and federal dollars.

Under the proposal unveiled Thursday, MassIT would become a new Executive Office of Technology Services and Security and include a chief information security officer and a chief privacy officer, among other new or expanded posts.

By concentrating on infrastructure, MassIT executive director Mark E. Nunnelly said, the new secretariat would “enable the rest of the executive office to focus on constituent service.”

The new secretary of technology would have the power to review and approve technology budget requests from state agencies, consolidate IT functions, and eliminate duplication of duties within agencies.

So far, however, the administration is not indicating anyone would lose their jobs under the new system.

A second memo obtained by the Globe offers some soothing words for state IT employees. It says that in many cases their work would remain the same, but under a new entity. And neither agency seniority, nor civil service status, nor union representation would change.

Some employees might see their titles change, but no one would see a reduction in compensation or the loss of rights to vacation and other benefits, the memo says.

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Officials with the National Association of Government Employees, which represents about 15,000 Massachusetts state employees, said the Baker administration reached out to them and was responsive to their requests to maintain employees’ status.

“Our members are protected in this transfer,” Theresa McGoldrick, national executive vice president of the union, told the Globe.

The Massachusetts Constitution streamlines the process for a governor trying to create, reorganize, or eliminate executive agencies. The Legislature has to hold a hearing on the plan within 30 days. The agency change becomes law 60 days after it is proposed unless a majority of the House of Representatives or a majority of the Senate votes against it. Legislators cannot amend the plan.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said state government should “leave no stone unturned in our efforts to make government more efficient.”

And, the Democrat said, modernizing the procurement and management of IT services is long overdue.

“We will seriously consider the administration’s proposal,” he said in a statement.

Seth Gitell, a spokesman for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, said that as recent events have demonstrated, “Cybersecurity is an issue everyone must confront.


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.