Capital Beat: State’s IT planning lags, last document expired in ’09

Last modified: 2/9/2015 4:43:50 PM
In an age of constant cybersecurity concerns and rapid technological updates, a report released last week by a commission convened by Gov. Maggie Hassan suggests New Hampshire may not be keeping pace. In fact, it says the state government “remains on the trailing edge of technology.” 

New Hampshire has a Department of Information Technology. But it hasn’t updated its strategic plan in more than five years. The last time the state put out an IT plan was in 2005, and it expired in 2009.

A lot has happened technologically in those six years. Apple released its first iPad, Instagram launched, Facebook went public and hackers infiltrated the system of retail giant Target, stealing credit and debit card data from roughly 40 million accounts. 

“We are very disheartened that in the last five years there has been no strategic IT plan,” said Steven Kelleher, who has been the Department of Information Technology’s acting commissioner since this summer.

The state’s Department of IT was broken out from within the Department of Safety in 2008, and given its own commissioner. Since its creation, it has had at least three different leaders – who are in charge of managing IT across all state departments. Kelleher is the acting director, and Hassan has yet to nominate a DoIT commissioner, who needs approval from the Executive Council. 

Kelleher said his current priority is putting together a foundation for a future IT plan.

During that process, Kelleher will look to the state’s Information Technology Council for guidance. The group, created by the Legislature and made up of lawmakers and state officials, acts like a board of directors for the department and is charged with developing statewide information technology plans, policies, and standards. It has not met in more than two years. 

A quick glance at the 11-member council shows that roughly half of the seats are unfilled or their occupants are now ineligible to even serve on the council. Some of the members’ terms have expired, and in other cases they retired from state government altogether, like former Department of Transportation commissioner Chris Clement and former state senator James Forsythe, who did not seek re-election in 2012.

The group’s last scheduled meeting was Aug. 17, 2012, according to the Department of IT’s website. As for the group’s next meeting, the date and location are “TBD.”

An IT plan is important to manage technological advances and keep the state’s infrastructure up to date.

A lack of funding and under investment, among other things, is holding the state’s IT back and creating real risk for state government, exposing state data to incursions and theft, the commission report says. It suggests the state invest in an external review of IT, and also the creation of a task force headed by the DoIT commissioner to bring New Hampshire to IT parity with other sates.

Cross over cuts

The state’s nursing homes are not taking a $7 million cut in revenue quietly.

The Department of Health and Human Services outlined a plan in January to trim $45 million from its budget in order to plug a $58 million department shortfall. It included a $7 million reduction in state payments to nursing homes, that administrators said will have a big impact on their bottoms lines.

Now, they are speaking out. Tomorrow, the New Hampshire Health Care Association (NHHCA), Nursing Homes in the New Hampshire Association of Counties, Republican Sen. Jeanie Forrester and representatives from nursing homes will hold a press conference at Merrimack County Nursing Home in Boscawen to talk about the cut.

Forrester, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is proposing legislation to keep the money with the nursing homes and stop it from filling HHS’s budget hole.

Hassan’s spokesman, William Hinkle, responded by saying the choice to reduce state payments to nursing homes was a difficult, but necessary, decision.

“Instead of this fiscally irresponsible bill that does not offer any cuts to offset the rate increase, Sen. Forrester should propose an alternative reduction to meet the back-of-the-budget cuts that the legislature mandated,” Hinkle said.

The back-and-forth illustrates what is likely to come this session as lawmakers begin crafting the next two-year state budget set to take effect July 1. Hassan says revenues are on the decline, Republicans argue it’s a spending problem. Hassan is going to outline her budget plan in mid-February, and has so far kept any details close to the vest.

New neighbors

Rep. Bill O’Brien’s band of Republican representatives will soon settle into a new office space.

After O’Brien lost the speakership to fellow Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper, he began organizing a group of Republican representatives separate from the majority office in the State House.

The group announced it would open an office across the street, and has now narrowed its property search to two locations on North Main Street in the Capital Plaza area, said Rep. Stephen Stepanek, an Amherst Republican. The decision will likely be made by tomorrow, he said, and a grand opening announcement will soon follow.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a staff there,” he said. “The office should accommodate 75 to 100 people in a meeting kind of setting.” So will the office, like the House Chamber, allow concealed carry?

“There’s no question,” Stepanek said. “No question at all.”

Mitt’s out

Two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Friday he won’t be running for president after all. The move opens the door to a pool of other potential candidates who are now all vying for the so-called establishment support.

“You have a race that is as wide open as its been for some time,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. “That is the key change.”

Activists who were tied to Romney – who handily won the New Hampshire primary in 2012 – are now free to take their pick among the other contenders, many of whom have trips scheduled to New Hampshire in the near future.

Looking ahead

Lawmakers will hear a bevy of bills this week, here are a few we will be watching:

∎ One, sponsored by Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, would establish a fee schedule for workers’ compensation costs, setting what providers can charge for services. It is likely to become a hotly debated topic this session, and the bill will be heard by the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services committee on Tuesday.

∎ The Senate Education Committee will have a Thursday hearing on a widely backed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to set standards for education, and determine the state funding.

∎ Another bill would require a two-thirds vote from the general court to expend or transfer dedicated funds, an issue that has come under increased scrutiny recently as some lawmakers are raising the alarm that some funds are in danger of being raided. That will be heard Thursday.



(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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