Republicans in the Minnesota Senate advanced a measure Tuesday to abolish Minnesota IT Services — or MNIT as it's known — and replace it with a new information technology division. MNIT is facing heavy scrutiny amid the troubled rollout of the state's new license plate database, MNLARS.
At a committee hearing Tuesday, the bill's author, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said individual state agencies also would have to obtain competitive bids for IT projects.
"We cannot go on status quo. We cannot go on business as usual. We can't afford it. And somebody does have to be responsible here. We are taking the responsible action," Rosen said.
• Previously: Lawmakers propose shakeup in state IT agency • FAQ: What is MNLARS?
The state spent $93 million developing MNLARS, but motor vehicle offices across Minnesota have faced major problems with routine tasks including processing tab renewals and titles, and transferring vanity plates.
On Monday, a separate Senate committee signed off on spending another $7.3 million on MNLARS. State officials had wanted more.
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said major changes are needed in the way the state handles big computer projects, otherwise agencies will continue throwing good money after bad.
"I just think there's something fundamentally wrong," Nobles said. "We are spending tremendous amounts of money to develop IT systems to implement business functions of state government. And that's probably going to continue. But I don't think it can continue with this level of expenditure and this level of failure."
DFLers on the committee pushed back on Rosen's plan to abolish MNIT. Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, said the measure will do nothing to address the root causes of the state's technology problems.
Carlson noted that the previous licensing system was decades out of date a decade ago.
"When I went through the department of vehicle services in 2008, the time when this original funding was signed, and Governor Pawlenty signed it, there were people working on [MS-]DOS systems. It was that bad," Carlson said.
MNIT Commissioner Johanna Clyborne — who started the job last month — said the move to scrap her agency is a knee-jerk reaction that'll do little to improve accountability.
There are many reasons why MNLARS isn't working as intended, she said, from the way the contract was set up, to what she calls leadership failures.
But Clyborne also said state leaders waited too long to replace the old system.
"I hate to say it, but we're all looking for an easy fix. And there isn't an easy fix when we've been neglecting our infrastructure for years," Clyborne said. "This is a 30-year-old mainframe. And people kept talking about, 'well we really didn't need to change it, it was all good.' The problem is that it wasn't good. It was an unstable system And if that system had gone down without having a backup system ready to go, our state would have been in significant trouble."
Clyborne would not comment on the firing last Friday of Paul Meekin — MNIT's chief business technology officer.
In a statement last night, Meekin said the legislature and governor's office failed to do the real work of identifying the serious and systemic problems underlying MNLARS — and have instead been distracted with finger pointing.
Rosen's measure to abolish MNIT now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.