Senate committee members reviewed legislation Friday that would provide more oversight to major information technology projects.

The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on two bills Friday morning. Senate Bill 2033 would change the definition of a major IT project from one costing $250,000 or more to one costing more than $500,000. Senate Bill 2034 would require an executive steering committee to be appointed to oversee a major IT project from start to finish.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, the chairman of the interim House Information Technology Committee, said SB2034 is similar to the language of an executive order by the governor in 2010 that authorized a steering committee to oversee a contract between the state Workforce Safety and Insurance agency and Aon eSolutions for a computer project.

“It was one of those ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ ideas,” Weisz said of the executive order.

WSI and the executive steering committee chose not to renew its contract with Aon after it expired Dec. 31. Approximately $17 million was spent on the project, which was originally supposed to be completed by Dec. 31, 2009, but saw numerous extensions and software that tested poorly.

A representative of Aon said Friday the company has elected not to comment at this time on the termination of the contract with WSI.

“None of us would like to see $17 million, or $5 million, or $25 million wasted,” Weisz said.

Changing the definition of a major IT project through SB2033 is in response to the rising cost of projects, Weisz said.

“What used to be a pretty big IT project at $250,000 … when looking at $20 million, $30 million, $80 million projects (it’s not as much now),” Weisz said.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, asked what the impact would be by changing the definition of a major project. Weisz said he expected it to be minimal since there are few current IT projects in that dollar range.

The bill to require the appointment of an executive steering committee for major IT projects also requires executive agencies to consult with the Office of Management and Budget and the attorney general’s office in preparing a contract.

Under SB2034, a five-person executive steering committee would be appointed for the project. Decisions during the course of the project would require a four-fifths vote of the committee.

Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, asked what protections SB2034 gives the state in terms of contracts with vendors.

“Will this bill ensure that we can go after these companies?,” Poolman asked.

Weisz said that it will. He said working through the attorney general’s office will allow protection and potential legal recourse for recouping funds from vendors that do not deliver or provide faulty products.

Agencies might have relied in the past on someone such as a staff attorney for participating in contract negotiations, Weisz said. Having the expertise of the attorney general’s office should help protect the state in such negotiations, he said.

“I don’t think this is onerous or overbearing for any agencies. This isn’t going to fix everything,” Weisz said. “To me, it will greatly increase the odds that an IT project will be successful.”

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