Outdated IT systems plague Vermont government

Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 7:19 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2020 at 7:22 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Some 15,000 Vermonters are getting their unemployment checks late this week after a technical error delayed payments. It’s just the latest example of a failure in one of the state’s antiquated IT systems which will need a big investment to modernize. Our Calvin Cutler takes a closer look at the problem and the chances it will be fixed anytime soon.

The technical error impacted unemployment payments due to about 15,000 Vermonters. Staffers were able to reconcile the problem and the money is now on its way.

“It’s something that has occurred occasionally and occurs more frequently the older our mainframe gets and the more strain and stress we put on the mainframe which has been true through the pandemic,” Vt. Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said.

The Vermont Labor Department’s 50-year-old mainframe is one of many state computer systems in need of an upgrade. The labor department system alone could cost $30 million.

Vermont’s DMV and social services mainframes also need more than $200 million of work combined.

The state is gradually modernizing and bringing state IT security up to snuff, contracting with data storage companies while also working to bring some government services online.

“We’ve been able to have Vermonters to be able to access government services in another way. But on the backend, we still run that old core system that’s very expensive to update,” Vt. Digital Services Secretary John Quinn said.

With antiquated computer systems and with cybersecurity concerns like the recent UVM Health Network ransomware attack fresh in lawmakers’ minds, they’re returning to the virtual Statehouse in a year where money is tight.

Lawmakers tell me that solving our IT problems won’t just take a one-time investment but a shift in how we fund IT, like roads and bridges.

The pandemic has shined a light on the interconnected need for quality broadband, cybersecurity and state IT infrastructure.

“The need for it is increasing rapidly, it’s not static. So, I think we all feel that pressure,” said Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover.

The federal government sometimes takes on some or all of the cost of projects. The latest relief bill from Congress did not allocate any money for IT modernization, so Harrington says Vermont and other states are left in a tough spot.

“Do we wait for potential funding opportunities at the federal level or do we decide the state is going to move forward with this initiative on its own?” Harrington said.

But as of right now, there isn’t are not any immediate plans to funnel more money into Vermont’s IT system.

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Technical difficulties delay some Vt. unemployment payments

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