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Computer Integration of Government System Faces Obstacles

Aug. 10, 2006 – Bureau of Information Technology officials said they may experience some setbacks in hooking up all government department and agencies to the new Enterprise Resource Planning System that is expected to go live on Oct. 1.
During budget hearings Thursday, BIT Director John George told senators that the government's computer infrastructure is currently in "bad shape" and needs revamping before the ERP system–which will be replacing the old financial management system–is put in place.
He explained that the bureau first has to develop a virtual private network which would boost the government's bandwidth, and increase BIT's monitoring and management capabilities.
According to Angel Turnbull, BIT's assistant director, new hardware also has to be installed throughout the government that would allow the bureau to connect departments and agencies to the ERP.
"We're going to be working on both systems simultaneously," he said after the meeting. "But we have to make sure the proper infrastructure is put in place before we can be able connect everyone to the ERP."
The ERP system is designed to provide real time access to government financial records and personnel listings, among other things. BIT will manage the network once it comes online.
During the meeting, George also said the bureau is hampered by a lack of staff, and needs enough funding to bring on at least 30 new employees. While George said the majority of the new positions are included in the bureau's $4.6 million General Fund budget request for Fiscal Year 2007, he also told senators that the bureau intends to bring on more technical staff once the ERP is implemented.
"We especially need more people on St. Croix," he said. "Right now, we do not have anyone over there, and when there's an emergency within a particular department or agency, we have to fly over from St. Thomas. Once the entire government comes onto the same network, however, it's going to be even more difficult. We'll definitely need the extra employees."
George explained that the new personnel, which will be taken from the information technology divisions currently set up within government departments and agencies, will be brought is as classified employees.
"Right now all our staff is unclassified, which will cause a problem when the present administration changes," he said. "To deal with this situation, we want to make sure that the new employees are classified, and we've been working with the Division of Personnel to do that."
He said that when the bureau was first created, the Office of Management and Budget recommended that all BIT positions–including vacancies–be funded under the "unclassified employee" category. Thus, in order to accommodate the incoming employees, new classified positions had to be created by the Personnel Division, and money to cover the costs had to be shifted from the "unclassified" vacant slots.
During the meeting, senators helped to expedite the process by approving the transfer of $39,433 worth of savings realized by BIT during FY 2006 from the "unclassified personnel services" category to the "classified personnel services" category.
While the approval of the transfer may have solved one problem, BIT officials also described a few other issues impacting the agency–including a lack of overall funding, which will hamper the development of the virtual private network, along with an emergency response system the bureau hopes to implement within the next year.
Called the E911 system, this network will connect medical, fire and police services, along with other first responder agencies throughout the territory, making it easier for these entities to communicate with one another in the event of an emergency.
George explained that without the proper funding, BIT would not be able to put in place all components of the virtual private network, nor to continuously monitor the E911 system, among other things. "The budgeted funds are not in line with what we need, but we will use what's allotted to us do our network rollout," he said, adding that BIT did not initially anticipate how much it would cost to build new facilities, hire staff and procure equipment.
After the meeting, George said that the lack of funding has forced BIT to reevaluate its strategy for the development of the virtual private network. "We're going to prioritize our needs, and set up the databases that we absolutely must have first and create the basic infrastructure," he said.
During the meeting, George also asked senators to grant BIT a lump-sum budget, which would allow the agency to create build the network "without having to be concerned about shifting funds," he said.
Present during Thursday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Usie R. Richards.
Sen. Neville James was absent.

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