Top IT official: Low pay, ‘remote’ location turns talent away from state jobs

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'My job would be a lot easier in Tampa,' Chief Information Officer Jamie Grant said.

Florida’s top IT officer says getting talented senior level IT staff to work for the state of Florida is an uphill battle, and he named low wages as well as living in Tallahassee, the state capital that is hundreds of miles away from the state’s major metro areas, among the top reasons.

State Chief Information Officer Jamie Grant told members of the FX Executive Steering Committee Wednesday that recruiting high-level IT staff, such as a chief information security officer, would be easier if the jobs were placed in a bigger labor market that was not as “remote.”

“You have to find a unicorn that is both talented, experienced, believes in the mission and is going to go do it for a short period of time and say, ‘Hey, I can do this and move,’” Grant said.

The FX Executive Steering Committee is charged with oversight of the redesign of the state’s Medicaid management information system from a singular platform to a modular one instead. The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which is spearheading the massive IT project dubbed the Florida Health Care Connection, or FX for short, has issued three invitations to negotiate for the new IT modules.

Taken together, the contracts are worth more than $330 million over a seven-year period.

NTT Data project manager Kurt Hartmann is working with the agency on the transition between the current Medicaid management information system and the new one providing independent verification of the work being done.

He told committee members that despite some delays, the ambitious project should be done on time which he attributed to hardworking IT employees in state agencies who he said are working from 6 a.m. to midnight on the IT project.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It’s very, very, rare I see state employees working from 6 a.m. to midnight,” Hartmann said. “Very, very, rare. Kudos to you. So, your team members are keeping up with the work. The challenge we are trying to point out is eventually you are going to have team members burn out. They will burn out.”

Grant, a former member of the House and the state’s first Chief Information Officer, said media and legislators don’t appreciate the pay disparity between high-level IT jobs at the state, city, private sector and university level.

Aligning the salaries across the various employers could be illustrative and put the information in context, Grant suggested.

AHCA Secretary Simone Marstiller said she wants the panel to schedule a meeting to specifically discuss the IT salaries and rates to try to get additional information that would help agencies as they request additional funding from the Legislature.

“The time has come. We are doing so much innovative work but can’t afford to hire the resources who have the skills and the talent we need to make these projects work and be successful,” said Marstiller, who made an unsuccessful push this Session to receive an additional $1.97 million to hire 12 IT staff.

Grant said he isn’t sure if it would help though.

During his two-year tenure as Chief Information Officer, Grant said he has developed a rapport with Amanda Crawford, the director of the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR).

Grant said Crawford alleges to be envious of him because he has played a key role in the development of the state’s enterprise system called Florida Digital Service.

But he told FX panel members that he is jealous of Crawford’s location.

“She has Austin. If you just compare our two jobs, she gets to recruit in Austin. Somebody does not have to leave Austin to come work for the DIR,” he said.

When he was hiring a chief information security officer, Grant said he had to “overcome” the low salary the state was offering as well as a requirement that the position be located in the state’s Panhandle.

And while Marstiller was optimistic that the IT rate and salary information would be helpful to state agencies seeking additional funds, Grant was not sure because most lawmakers don’t live year-round in Tallahassee.

“They come to Tallahassee and leave. My job would be a lot easier in Tampa,” Grant said to Marstiller. “Your job would be a lot easier in Miami — just that talent pool that exists there versus a much smaller market that’s kind of remote.”

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


2 comments

  • Nancy

    June 16, 2022 at 3:40 pm

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  • Retiring Unicorn

    June 16, 2022 at 3:50 pm

    So much of that has been true for a long time. Many in IT in Tallahassee chose to get into the field because they didn’t want to sweat, not because they have a particular aptitude for the business. Consequently, so many systems are poorly designed, poorly maintained, bloated, patched over decades, use outdated or techniques and are too scattered to be easily understood and/or maintained. Staffs wind up bloated and too specialized. FSU has the largest computer science school in the country and is just minutes from downtown. Mining the graduates for new help that is freshly trained on modern techniques would seem to be a no brainer, but the gung-ho new hire’s are all too often rejected by the established personnel. Instead, he’s trained down to support the system “as is” instead of helping improve it.

    I’ve seen agencies take small, million-dollar projects that should last a year and turn them into multi-year disasters costing 15 or 20 times what it should; agencies make 7 or 8 year projects out of taking small mainframe applications and moving them to modern architecture; FSU and FAMU spent a lot of money moving from their home-grown systems to Peoplesoft, and a year after going live spent millions more to convert it to Oracle. What a phenomenal risk and expense just to swap the backend database between the two industry leaders.

    But it’s not just the technical staff. Management isn’t much better as they aren’t truly held responsible. Much of management started out on the front lines and accepted promotions into supervisory or management positions to make more money. You certainly can’t blame anyone for that, but it moves talent and institutional knowledge out of what it does best and puts people with no management training or experience into a position of managing people.

    There are no easy answers.

Comments are closed.


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