Maryland Gov. Wes Moore is calling for comprehensive upgrades to aging and antiquated government computer systems that can be paired with artificial intelligence to improve government services.
Moore (D), in an announcement Monday, signed an executive order laying out guiding principles for integrating AI technology in state government as well as efforts to upgrade aging systems and make government services more accessible online for people with disabilities. The governor likened his initiative to a software update for state government.
“Think about it this way: My iPhone asks me to update it like every eight weeks. But we have not updated the way that government works in the past eight years. How can we win the next decade if the tools that we have to win the decade are the tools for last decade?” said Moore.
“So today, the state of Maryland is getting a software update,” he said.
The executive order signed by Moore, the 24th issued by the governor since taking office, establishes “guard rails” for the use of AI technology in state government. The order also creates a sub-cabinet focused on the technology and promoting its use within state agencies.
“Maryland state government is at the starting line of its AI journey,” said Department of Information Technology Secretary Katie Savage. “We must ensure that our approach to the set of technologies is responsible and productive and cohesive across all our agencies. The executive order establishes a set of principles and values we will adhere to, along with the governing body and an accountability plan.”
Moore also announced the creation of the Maryland Digital Service and a state cybersecurity task force.
The Maryland Digital Service within the Department of Information and Technology will focus efforts on website and application design.
The cybersecurity task force will work to create an overall approach to cybersecurity issues for state agencies. Included on the panel will be representatives of the Department of Information Technology, the Maryland Military Department, and the Maryland Department of Emergency Management in coordination with the state Office of Homeland Security.
Moore also announced efforts to upgrade state agency systems and websites will ensure equal access to people with disabilities.
“The goal of these initiatives is to make Maryland more competitive through automation while ensuring our technology is secure and accessible, so we leave no one behind,” said Savage.
The announcement was met with praise from lawmakers who have already been working on AI and cybersecurity issues and modernizing the state’s computer systems.
“The governor seems focused on this,” said Del Anne Kaiser, (D-Montgomery) House co-chair of the Joint Committee Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Biotechnology. “We need people to ensure that he and the administration stay focused on it.”
Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard and Montgomery) Senate co-chair of the Joint Committee Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Biotechnology, called the executive order and related announcement “vision setting.”
“It sets the tone,” she said. “It says that the technology is here. It’s an opportunity. If we don’t jump on the bandwagon, we’re going to be left behind. It sets out the six principles, which I think are pretty good.”
But, she added: “I always find that things with timelines and budgets move more quickly around here.”
Still, there are unanswered questions. State officials will need to iron out details on what data might be collected from users through AI technology, how users will be informed of that data collection and what the state will do to protect any information it does collect.
Also, not immediately addressed are concerns for how the technology could be used by law enforcement.
Modernizing state computer systems so they are compatible with artificial intelligence is not an inexpensive proposition.
The effort may also face tough sledding as the governor and legislature address budget shortfalls in five-year fiscal forecast. Also, there is a need to shore up funding for transportation projects and many other expensive programs including a plan to improve the state’s K-12 education system.
Savage, when asked about the costs, said agencies “already have a budget in place for major IT development projects across the state.”
Some estimates place the total cost of modernization in the billions of dollars.
Five years ago, then Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a modernization of computer systems within the state’s social services agencies. The move away from antiquated to cloud-based systems was estimated to cost $200 million in the first year.
Hester said the state has spent $800 million on those MD Think upgrades over five years. She estimated that roughly 40% of the state’s remaining computer systems will need upgrades.
“Modernizing our legacy systems will cost billions over the next 10 years,” said Fry Hester.
That price tag outpaces the state’s current budgeting for such projects. Between fiscal 2015 and 2024, the state budgeted an average of $65.3 million. That money paid only for system modernization, and nothing related to artificial intelligence, said Hester.
“It adds up,” she said.