TxDOT Considers Outsourcing IT

The Texas Department of Transportation might transfer its information technology needs to private firms, the agency confirmed Thursday — signaling an interest in expanding its outsourcing of the agency's services.

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson sent an email to TxDOT employees Thursday notifying staff that the agency had requested proposals from private firms to improve the agencies’ IT function.

“Quite simply, we should always be looking at how to do things better,” Wilson wrote in the email. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing with our IT program. The RFP published last week enables us to learn about how people outside of TxDOT could improve our IT function.”

TxDOT requested $188 million for “information resources” in the Legislature’s next two-year budget, including $30 million for salaries and wages. 

TxDOT officials have said modernizing its information system is a top priority. The agency's computing system dates back to the 1980s and has been described by TxDOT officials as arcane and inefficient in handling an enterprise of 12,000 employees that works with billions of dollars each year. The agency said in an August report that IT issues have contributed to “a lack of financial transparency.”

 

Wilson has said working with the agency’s IT system has been among the most daunting challenges in trying to lead the agency and make it more efficient since he was named executive director in late 2011.

“We have basically a Harry Potter algorithm that four people understand and they get into the magic room and they can plug in the code and [access] our financial data,” Wilson told The Texas Tribune in May. “It is truly our greatest internal need from a technical standpoint. We have a mission critical problem that we have to address.”

While informing TxDOT staff that the agency may outsource some or all of its IT functions in the near future, Wilson also said the agency's current IT department has the chance to fight for its own survival.

"We’re providing our team additional resources to help demonstrate our ability to drive our own improvement program," he wrote. “If you are a member of the IT staff, this is your time to shine even more and show us your best work. … Today, we have made no decision on what path to take."

Over the last year, Wilson has spoken extensively about transferring some of TxDOT’s functions to the private sector to cut costs and improve efficiency. In August, it announced plans to seek proposals from private firms to handle routine maintenance on major highways near the state’s cities.

 

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