Poor communication and feedback. Pricing and revenue issues. Empty building space. A mainframe computer considered obsolete.
Washington’s chief information-technology agency — known as WaTech — suffers from a variety of problems, a new state audit says.
The Washington state Auditor’s Office released the report Monday outlining eight recommendations for WaTech, which performs information-technology services for 100 state agencies, as well as 200 other local government and tribal organizations.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced WaTech CIO Michael Cockrill would leave his post in October to take a job in the private sector. Veteran state employee Rob St. John was named to be interim director.
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Inslee made no mention of the troubles at WaTech in his statement about Cockrill
“Under his direction WaTech has been highly focused on finding new and innovative ways to meet state technology needs, while enabling state agencies to evolve from outdated systems and processes,” the governor said. “I thank Michael for his service, and my staff and I look forward to working with Rob in his new role.”
The Legislature created WaTech in 2015 by consolidating existing state offices and departments. It charges agencies for services, but it ran a $10 million deficit last year.
Among the recommendations, the auditor’s report says WaTech should do a better job soliciting and incorporating feedback as it develops new IT services, increase the transparency of its pricing and develop plans to better recover costs.
In 2016 and 2017, the Auditor’s Office interviewed employees and collected data at 13 state agencies — which weren’t named in the report — that are among WaTech’s customers.
In one instance, at least five agencies complained about WaTech’s 2015 launch of a new computer-security service known as a vulnerability scanner.
The scanner “did not meet these agencies’ basic requirements and … did not perform many of the same functions as the original scanner” that agencies were using, the report said.
In response, “Two agencies said they purchased products from outside vendors that could run the necessary scans, essentially paying twice for one service,” the report added.
Meanwhile, inside the agency last fiscal year, “11 of 20 business centers operate at deficits,” according to the report. The agency is expected to break even this year, with revenues projected to total about $158 million.
But there are no immediate solutions for two of WaTech’s biggest money-losing problems, the report said: an old mainframe computer and the State Data Center.
In 2009 — before WaTech was created — the state built a $300 million office- and data-storage center.
Two of the building’s four data halls remain empty. And because of technology improvements, those halls would remain empty even if all state agencies began using the center, the report said.
Because of security and cost issues, WaTech hasn’t been able to rent out the empty space.
WaTech also must maintain what the agency itself describes as “a costly and obsolete mainframe computer” that runs a state financial-reporting system.
Some agencies have moved toward a cloud-based system, but “WaTech will not be able to stop using the equipment until every state agency has stopped using the mainframe,” WaTech said in response to the audit. The response was included in the report.
In the report, WaTech noted that it is still a “young organization” and said seven of the report’s eight recommendations are already in place.
WaTech also disputed the report’s portrayal of poor customer service, noting that nearly all the feedback given to the agency’s help desk was positive.
State Auditor Pat McCarthy said some of the recommendations, like better communication and responding to feedback, should be simple to implement, adding, “It’s not rocket science here.”
News Tribune staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.