Audit: MNIT has dozens of incomplete projects, millions unspent
ST. PAUL—The agency charged with making sure the state's computers are up-to-date did a poor job of overseeing projects, leaving dozens unfinished and $23 million in taxpayer dollars unspent, an audit released Thursday, Aug. 16, shows.
The Office of the Legislative Auditor examined Minnesota IT Services' handling of the state Information and Telecommunications Account from July 2014 to Feb. 2018. The legislature created the account in 2006 to fund future computer projects.
A total of 209 IT projects worth more than $79 million were approved for the account between 2007 and 2017, the report found. As of March 2018, state agencies had either not started or completed 95 of those projects, leaving a balance of $23 million in the account.
Forty-five of the 95 incomplete projects were approved in 2015, 37 were approved in 2017 and 12 were approved between 2007 and 2011.
The state audit identified "inadequate oversight and noncompliance" at all five project stages: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and completion.
"I think that the audit reveals some significant concerns about how MNIT has not overseen this account," said Judy Randall, deputy legislative auditor for the Office of the Legislative Auditor. "I was surprised about the lax oversight. I was surprised about how much money was sitting in the ... fund."
The audit noted that MNIT has strengthened its oversight policies since the account's creation. But it also stated the agency has not enforced or monitored compliance with its policies or state laws, instead relying on staff to comply voluntarily.
Other findings in the report:
• Current law does not say how MNIT should manage money left over from older projects.
• MNIT lacked adequate controls to follow up on projects that had not spent money.
• MNIT submitted an "inaccurate and incomplete" report on the account to the legislature last year, omitting 10 projects and understating the budgets and expenditures for six projects.
MNIT Commissioner Johanna Clyborne addressed the report's findings in a letter sent to the legislative auditor's office on Tuesday.
"While policies and oversight surrounding the (Information and Telecommunications Account) have been strengthened in recent years, your audit thoroughly demonstrates the extent of work that remains before full compliance ... can be claimed," Clyborne's letter said.
The shortcomings identified in the audit also are reflective of insufficient resources in MNIT's central office, Clyborne added, which have made regular compliance difficult.
She said MNIT is committed to resolving the audit's findings, and outlined a slew of processes and controls to be implemented by the end of the year.
GOP lawmakers weigh in
The audit drew a swift response from Republican lawmakers, with some renewing calls to abolish MNIT and others promising legislative action. The party has controlling majorities of both the state House and Senate.
State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, who chair state government finance committees in their respective chambers, issued statements about the audit.
Kiffmeyer said Minnesota's next governor "should run — not walk — to sign the Republican bill that abolishes MNIT," while Anderson said she will introduce legislation next year to address the report's findings.
State Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said he was disappointed by MNIT's handling of a fund that "should have been far simpler than they have made it." He has been a vocal critic of the agency's work.
Agency in turmoil
MNIT has been under scrutiny from lawmakers and watchdogs for much of the year, mostly for its handling of the state's glitch-ridden vehicle licensing and registration system — known as MNLARS.
More than $100 million in taxpayer funds have been spent trying to make the system work properly, prompting the legislative auditor to launch four separate probes to examine both MNLARS and MNIT.
The MNLARS mess also led to the ousting of MNIT's chief business technology officer, who served as executive lead on the project.