Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) proposed legislation today to unify the state's information technology agencies, which would save as much as $100 million annually in his most far-reaching initiative on restructuring Virginia government.
In separate speeches before a statewide meeting of newspaper executives and the Southern Technology Council, Warner urged the Republican-led General Assembly to abolish three state technology agencies and two smaller entities, consolidating $448 million in state spending in a new Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
Warner said his streamlining proposal should mesh with the GOP's efforts to make state government more efficient, a goal that assumed new urgency this year as Virginia leaders grappled with a nearly $6 billion shortfall in their $50 billion, two-year budget.
"They've talked the talk; now we're going to see whether they can walk the walk," Warner told the technology council.
Warner's proposals were the latest of the daily announcements he is making about legislative initiatives on government restructuring, which will culminate next week in the presentation of his budget-cutting plan to the General Assembly. Lawmakers will convene their annual session in January.
Warner has recommended modernizing how the state manages its money and builds its roads and has called for an end to Virginia's one-term limit on governors.
Additional proposals on highway safety, a statewide water policy and community-based mental health care are coming, but Warner described the technology legislation as the centerpiece of his program, partly because he built a lucrative career in that field but also because its long-term savings would be the greatest.
Initial savings would be minimal. The state would have to spend $14 million on consolidation costs before an initial savings of $23 million next year. But after that, Warner said, the money saved would grow dramatically, by some estimates approaching $100 million by the time he leaves office in 2006.
"Technology is a fast-changing enterprise," Warner said. "With today's announcement . . . we take the next steps necessary to adapt government to its use."
Although Virginia has been a national leader in technology, first under Warner's predecessor, James S. Gilmore III (R), and now under a technocrat-turned-governor, state government has had trouble lumbering into the Information Age.
According to a legislative audit scheduled for release next week, computer systems that have failed in the transportation and social services departments have cost Virginia taxpayers $73 million in the past decade, and an additional $18 million was lost in cost overruns, officials said.
Warner added that duplicative systems have cost the state about $560 million since 1996, a sum that should fall dramatically if technology services are centralized.
Many of the problems stem from the patchwork of computer programs and contracts sprinkled through the vast state bureaucracy, Warner and other officials said. For instance, the state has 13 separate contracts with Dell computers, rather than a single master contract; many of the e-mail systems are incompatible; there is no comprehensive Internet security plan; and there are more computer technicians at the Department of Transportation than the Department of Information Technology.
Warner ordered state Technology Secretary George C. Newstrom, a highly respected technology executive from Northern Virginia, to conduct a five-month audit of the state's technology assets and devise a plan for a new, "rational" technology agency.
Although his proposals are largely intended for in-house improvements, Warner said taxpayers may find it easier to access government services through the Internet once the programs are enacted.
To emphasize the premium he is placing on legislative passage, Warner said he will present a single omnibus technology bill to the assembly, which even some supportive legislators said was politically risky.
"Cherry-picking is part of the process," said Del. Jeannemarie A. Devolites of Fairfax County, a House GOP leader. "If there are one or two big objections, you could lose the whole thing."