Richard Ruelas: An ad hoc legislative committee on information technology met today, trying to figure out ways to improve service and communications in state agencies. Here to talk about the committee and its task is vice chair of the group, state representative Carl Seel, republican of Phoenix. Thank you for joining us tonight here on "Horizon".
Carl Seel: Thank you for inviting me, Richard.
Richard Ruelas: You were back at the capital already, gee!
Carl Seel: Believe it or not.
Richard Ruelas: How did the committee meeting go today?
Carl Seel: I think it went exceptionally well. Many of the agencies we thought were in worst shape than initially than we thought but many that we interviewed were pleasantly in better shape. They have challenges but they were in better shape than we thought.
Richard Ruelas: What's an example of the outdated things that we might expect people to have that they don't.
Carl Seel: You wouldn't expect this but some of the agencies reported having computers that were dated as back as/late as the early 90's. Literally, still using machines from the early 90's. Incredible!
Richard Ruelas: That's that do to hamper efforts? What kind of savings are we looking at if we update this?
Carl Seel: Many of the directors of the agencies we talked with, the department of revenue for example, indicated that they've really done a good job of starting to bring their machines forward. What they looked at is that by having these older machines, the cost of maintaining those systems is greater than the potential cost of actually upgrading. D.O.R., Department of Revenue did a good job of starting moving that forward. Some of the other agencies we spoke to today, department of transportation, particularly motor vehicles division, and the -- of those departments had indicated -- Access for example had indicated they really need to upgrade their systems, although I did take a tour of access's systems today and it was very impressive.
Richard Ruelas: Impressive in the way of?
Carl Seel: Impressive that they're handling a lot of data. There's unfortunately well over 1.3 million people on access of public assistance as far as medical is concerned. The fact they're managing that database is impressive.
Richard Ruelas: And I guess the public sees consequences of this in terms of like say the state unemployment benefits which seem to run into a little bit of a road block inside the computer system in getting people paid benefits on time. Is that what caused your concern? Is that the reason why we're looking at this? Those kinds of outcomes?
Carl Seel: The committee was formed for two fundamental ideas to help government operate better and serve the public better and reduce overhead and costs in that regard and also look at making efficiencies as well as reducing fraud. You'd be surprised. We're the identity theft capital of the country and there's a lot of fraud going on. For example, identity fraud. You probably couldn't imagine dead people on access but that's been happening and we're correcting that. In addition to that you've got people in incarceration getting unemployment benefits. There's a lot of things we check on even members of the Middle East and Al Qaeda, have encouraged young Muslims to steal credit cards to use the money against us and the card we give members, people who are receiving public benefits is in essence a credit card.
Richard Ruelas: And is it -- um, are we unable to check for those because we can't cross-reference databases? That kind thing?
Carl Seel: The technology is there to do it. Gardner report shows that the state of Ohio saved well over $1.2 billion in the first year of implementation. What I was really, really happy to hear today is the I.T. director of access indicated that he's starting to use this advanced technology and that's been producing excellent results. What I plan on doing is using that across the state. In fact, I got budget provisions put in the current budget to do just that.
Richard Ruelas: You said access is -- yeah, the current government gave access to cash to implement some of the ideas. They're already seeing some results?
Carl Seel: They're already seeing some results by using advanced technology to take the various databases and bump 'em up against each other. They do that reduce the costs of operating and better serve the public. The operator indicated he was able to reduce staff and he could still handle the increased case load. That's very impressive. That'll carry across the state. In fact, like I said, the state of Ohio was much the same problems that we're having now. In their first year of implementing this advanced technology, they saved well over $1.2 billion. That's going to go a long way to bridge the deficit we have.
Richard Ruelas: A lot of things will be below the surface and caused frustration from the state employees that they had to hit the computer twice a day. It hit the state of consciousness when we had the unemployment benefits backed up. Was that a problem with computer systems? Software and engineering data or something else?
Carl Seel: I don't think so. When you look at a story that a 4-year-old received $8,000 for a first-time home buyer tax credit. I think the rush created the challenge there has.
Richard Ruelas: Too many people applying for unemployment at one time? That caused too much --
Carl Seel: Yes, many of the agencies did report not only in that agency but in others have reported that the flow of their demand is -- obviously when the economy turns down, they get an increased demand in public services.
Richard Ruelas: I guess giving them new equipment and better software and better hardware and better systems will help them deal with that?
Carl Seel: That's what I said. The I.T. director of access, very impressive gentleman. He -- that's what he'd indicated. And he was very enthusiastic. I think like I said going back to that Gardner Report and I keep driving home with that that Ohio saved $1.2 billion. We can do the same thing here. I'm encouraged by that I think the state of Arizona, not only the numbers are starting to come around. We have a solid $7.1 billion of revenue coming. As long as we bring our spending down close enough to revenue without jeopardizing the stimulus money which I think if we reduce 15% to 20%, we can do just that.
Richard Ruelas: The $1.2 billion is that a mixture of fraud detection and efficiency?
Carl Seel: Yes.
Richard Ruelas: Ok.
Carl Seel: Combination of both. Almost a 50/50 mix.
Richard Ruelas: You're asking for more dollars in a budget year. You obviously have someone for access. Have you felt a push from republicans saying this is not the time now to invest in new computers?
Carl Seel: What's interesting is my colleagues are extremely supportive of the idea. A vast majority of my colleagues signed onto my bill to put that into the budget. They're very encouraged about it. In fact, the vast majority of democrats voted against fraud reduction when you look at the bills that went through. I was very surprised -- unfortunately, I would have liked all of my colleagues both sides of the aisle would support fraud reduction but I was surprised many members of the other side of the aisle didn't.
Richard Ruelas: Yeah and in this budget year and I guess if you end up being called back into session in a few weeks, we'll see if this is an idea that comes to fruition. Thank you for joining us.