The clank of technology running into frugality Funding not endorsed for Glendening plan


The agency which advises the General Assembly on fiscal matters has recommended against spending taxpayer money on one of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's major initiatives -- an Information Technology Investment Fund that would develop projects such as computer networks for government and schools.

An analysis prepared by the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services suggests lawmakers delete $2 million that Mr. Glendening had earmarked for the fund within the state budget because the administration has not indicated how it would spend the money.

The report criticizes the state's Information Technology Board for failing to implement an "effective procedure for evaluating investment opportunities." It also suggests that the administration has not documented how much money would be spent on information technology in the future.

Fiscal Services recommendations form the basis for budget deliberations in the General Assembly.

Major F. Riddick, the governor's chief of staff, said he remained optimistic that the administration could adequately answer the questions raised by the analysis and that legislators would support the fund.

"If that's [the Department of Fiscal Service's] strongest argument, they're in trouble," Mr. Riddick said.

Administration officials said the proposed fund could make government more accessible, provide more technology to public schools, increase technological literacy, and help the state invest in information systems more cost effectively.

The $2 million was intended to be "seed" money that would be augmented by a number of sources, including the savings from future renegotiations of telecommunications contracts, commissions from pay phones on state property, and the sale of information technology or services.

In a hearing before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Friday, lawmakers said they supported the program's goals, but several echoed the criticisms raised by the analysis.

Dr. James Fielder, deputy secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, insisted the fund could put the state on the cutting edge of technology as a "public service tool."

"It is technology that will enable government to do more with less," Dr. Fielder said.

"It is technology that will drive our business environment.

"It is technology that our children must learn in order to prosper in the future."

Administration officials said the fund could pay for such things as the development of an electronic mail system for the State House complex, a system to distribute state forms and applications electronically, and electronic kiosks similar to automated tellers in libraries and malls that could provide government services and information.

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