In the 2017 session of the General Assembly, HB 1794 aimed to make the state’s case information website searchable across all localities and to make “the entire compilation of records contained therein…available upon request”. While the bill did not become law, the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES) did generate an impact statement which estimated the cost of this work to be more than $1.6 million.
Many people are incredulous that it would cost so much to add a feature this insignificant. As a software engineer, I wonder what technical challenges could justify this cost and how much the existing system costs. Expenditure data on Virginia’s Commonwealth Data Point website provides some clues.
The Supreme Court spends more than $5 million per year on Computer Operating Services and the bulk of that money goes to a company called Data Concepts, an IT consulting firm. LinkedIn profiles for a couple of software developers at Data Concepts detail their work on the OES Web Development team at the Supreme Court of Virginia.
This isn’t much, but it does provide a place to start asking questions. It may be possible to gain a significant understanding of these systems by making a FOIA request for any contracts between Data Concepts and the Supreme Court, specifically those that are linked to these vouchers, and any RFPs or project plans associated with the contracts.
An interview with someone at OES would be even better. I would be interested to learn both about the systems and about the procurement process. Is it possible to order development of a script that simply exports the data available on the case information website to CSV files? Can that script be run once a night or even once a month? And can the files be hosted for public download? I would expect something like this to cost around $10,000 to implement and maintain. And if OES can’t do that, I’d like to know why.
My concern is that IT procurement at OES is broken, which makes changing the existing system cost prohibitive. If that’s the case, lawmakers will have a difficult time passing any legislation around the operation of Virginia’s court system or the data it produces.