Missouri state government wrestles with massive computer shortcomings

By Kurt Erickson

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    JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) — Key computer systems used by the state of Missouri are so outdated officials are worried some of the only programmers who know how to work with the antiquated technology will retire.

Without their knowledge of a programming language that is rarely used anymore, they say, no one will know how to keep critical functions, such as tax reporting, payroll processing and budgeting, from failing.

The problems span across the sprawling operation of state government, touching people when they purchase a car, apply for Medicaid or cash their state tax refund.

But for years, Gov. Mike Parson and legislators have taken few steps to address what is an increasingly expensive problem.

The latest flaw was exposed this month when the Post-Dispatch reported that the Social Security numbers of school teachers, administrators and counselors across Missouri were vulnerable to public exposure due to programming shortcomings on a website maintained by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The vulnerability was discovered in a web application that allowed the public to search teacher certifications and credentials. The department removed the affected pages from its website Tuesday after being notified of the problem by the Post-Dispatch.

Parson called the newspaper’s work “hacking” and called for a criminal investigation and a possible civil lawsuit.

His tirade put a spotlight on what members of his own administration have been saying for years: The state’s aging fleet of computers is due for an upgrade.

According to budget officials, a true overhaul of the state’s systems will cost an estimated $83.5 million. That cost would also finance a new portal for residents to access various state services.

Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, is championing the use of $2.8 billion in federal relief funds to pay for the information technology upgrades, which could take as long as six years.

“We don’t have time to waste,” Richey told members of a House committee in July.

Personnel moves The focus on the state’s…