HARRISBURG – The Senate approved comprehensive legislation today that would strengthen, secure and consolidate information technology (IT) across state agencies in order to modernize and streamline operations.
The bill’s sponsors, Senators Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated flaws within state government’s technology systems and increased the urgency to upgrade outdated IT.
“Over 2.2 million unemployment compensation claims have been filed throughout the pandemic and there still exists a significant backlog of individuals who are awaiting a resolution to their months-old claims. Unfortunately, our state’s Department of Labor and Industry is operating on a 1950s computer programming language, despite legislatively approved fund transfers to bolster this decades-old system,” Phillips-Hill said. “Senate Bill 810 will push the entire state government into the 21st century through a consolidated effort.”
Under the senators’ proposal, the state would implement a strategic plan for future IT projects, manage and maintain all procurement of IT for state agencies, and establish cybersecurity standards for all of state government under the newly created Office of Information Technology (OIT).
The office would also make recommendations for future consolidation, integration and investment.
Many state agencies are still working remotely and the need for a stronger IT system to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians has only grown, not lessened, over the last six months.
The senators pointed out that inadequate IT systems in state government affects Pennsylvanians in a variety of ways.
“From professional licensure delays to interruptions in obtaining timely birth and death certificates, the people of Pennsylvania deserve to have a responsive government that is making a concerted effort to operate with today’s latest IT programs and procedures,” Aument said.
The senators noted that the state’s annual IT spending, totaling nearly $1.1 billion, would be the fifth-largest expense in the annual General Fund budget, trailing only the Departments of Education, Human Services, Corrections and the Treasury.
The state has also seen a growing number of cyberattacks, which is another main focus of Phillips-Hill’s language. A 2016-17 study by the FBI on state response to cyberattacks found that Pennsylvania ranks second worst, only behind Hawaii, with a ‘D’ rating. According to the FBI, Pennsylvania has the sixth-highest number of cyberattacks, with Pittsburgh having the greatest number of cybercrimes.
The state’s Department of Corrections, Education and Human Services all experienced data breaches in recent years, exposing names and personal information of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
“The state must make this a priority because we’ve seen that cyberattacks can inflict major damage on taxpayers,” Aument said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee estimates the measure would save taxpayers between $21 million and $32 million annually.
In 2019, Senator Phillips-Hill chaired a Senate Communications and Technology Committee public hearing on the matter.
“This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue – this is about codifying long-term changes that are needed today to future-proof our Commonwealth regardless of who the governor is,” Phillips-Hill added.
The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration.