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MNIT yields mixed results 8 years after lawmakers called for consolidation, report shows

Minnesota Capitol. Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — About eight years after the creation of the state's hub for information technology services, reviews of the agency yielded mixed results.

That's according to a Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor report released on Wednesday, Feb. 27. While the state is better positioned to fight cybersecurity threats and can leverage its size to get better deals on software purchases, it's hard to say if consolidating the state's IT resources improved efficiency or spending, the report said.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2011 required IT services and employees that had been spread across state departments and agencies be consolidated under the Office of Minnesota Information Technology Services, known as MNIT. In the years since, the office has faced public hiccups, including the failed rollout of the state driver's licensing and vehicle registration computer program, MNLARS.

On projects like MNLARS, the office's oversight was too lax and at times was out of compliance with state law and the agency's policies and procedures, auditors found.

"MNIT 'generally did not comply with significant legal requirements, including Minnesota statutes and [MNIT’s] own policies and procedures,'" state auditors wrote. "MNIT did not adequately ensure that agencies properly planned these projects, and it did not adequately monitor projects to ensure that they met project timelines and produced project deliverables."

The auditors surveyed department and agency officials and found that the majority were satisfied with MNIT's enterprise services and technical services. And almost 90 percent reported that they were satisfied with MNIT's efforts to protect state information from security threats.

But they also reported dissatisfaction and frustration with wait times to get customer support for services and invoices they perceived to be inaccurate. They also raised concerns about the cost for MNIT services.

During the 2018 budget year, MNIT spent roughly $600 million. The office has more than 2,000 employees and also oversees contract workers.

Lawmakers commissioned the audit to uncover problems at the agency, and Gov. Tim Walz has delayed filling the MNIT Commissioner position, saying it's the most thankless job in state government.

"What we have right now isn't working well," said Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, who turned down several offers to head the agency. "This is my third term and it's been a problem from the very beginning, so I think MNIT is failing on a regular basis and something has to be done."

Nash didn't say if he'd support an effort backed by some Senate Republicans to eliminate the agency and start over.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said lawmakers need to do more to support the agency rather than rooting it out.

"I don't think that this report is the kind of thing that justifies breaking up the agency or privatizing it or anything of that nature," Winkler said. "I think we should continue to improve it and accelerate improvements with better collaboration."

Bill Poirier, the acting MNIT commissioner, said the agency has continued delivering key services as an "unfunded government transformation initiative" played out in the agency. The full consolidation in MNIT has not yet been completed, auditors found.

“With cyber threats on the rise and many of the state’s IT systems nearing end of life, it is critical all state leaders come together now to finish the job and finish it right," Poirier said.

The audit also found that lawmakers and agency heads surveyed said MNIT didn't provide enough information about the work it was doing. Auditors recommended the Legislature establish additional committees to oversee IT services.

The office is also constrained by laws that are "outdated or too broad," the report said. Lawmakers and MNIT officials should adjust those statutes, auditors wrote.