Lawmakers propose shakeup in state IT agency

One of the state agencies under fire for its work on the troubled vehicle licensing and registration system would be abolished under legislation introduced Monday in the Minnesota Senate.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, is proposing to eliminate Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) in its current form and create a new information technology division within the Department of Administration. The department’s commissioner, rather than the governor, would appoint a chief information officer to head the division.

Rosen said the bill was inspired by the problem-plagued launch of the Minnesota Licensing and Registration system (MNLARS).

“That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Rosen said. “We are spending way too much money, no accountability. You ask questions, they can’t answer them.”

Rosen said she wants to redefine the purpose of MNIT and make it competitive. Her bill would require the division to participate in competitive bidding with outside vendors on IT projects.

“If that was a competitive process and they failed to come forth with what they said they could do, then we could hold them accountable,” she said. “Right now, we just seem like we’re running around going ‘who’s responsible?’”

MNIT did not immediately offer comment on the bill.

MNIT Commission Johanna Clyborne criticized the proposal.

“I am disappointed by the knee-jerk reaction to release a bill to disband Minnesota IT Services,” Clyborne said. “While I understand the frustration Minnesotans and lawmakers have with the MNLARS system, and I share it, this short sighted bill does not take into account the many successful projects that MNIT delivers on behalf of Minnesotans, nor would it help state government overcome the challenges inherent in modernizing decades-old IT systems and the government processes they support.”

Rosen said she expects most of the current leadership and staff would remain through the change, which would take effect July 1.

A hearing is planned next week in the Senate state government committee.

Rosen is the Senate finance chair. Her cosponsors are the chairs of the Senate state government committee and the transportation committee.

Transportation chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he signed on because of MNLARS. Newman said if the agency isn’t abolished this session, he expects at a minimum there will be significant changes.

“What we are going through with MNLARS is not just the cost of the program,” Newman said. “There’s a whole list of ancillary costs to the state of Minnesota that I’m really concerned about.”

The bill comes as MNIT and the Department of Public Safety are seeking legislative approval for a $10 million transfer of funds to keep the MNLARS repairs on track. State officials sent 30-day layoff notices last week to outside contractors working on the project after lawmakers missed a March 1 deadline.

Newman is proposing approval of $7.3 million along with requirements for additional legislative oversight.

“I am unwilling to go forward with any more money to MNIT and DPS without legislative oversight, given the past track record,” he said.