The Senate reorganizes the Virtual Information System VI

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The VI legislature is considering major changes to the VI virtual information system. (image Shutterstock)

The Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee discussed a bill to modify the territory’s virtual data system and, after approval, sent it to the Rules and Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Bill 34-0096 would add a chapter to Title 3 of the VI Code, establishing the “VI Virtual Information System”. Senator Janelle Sarauw, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill would “improve the quality of life, education and health care.” Senator Donna Frett-Gregory also sponsored the bill.

Sarauw’s “true data warehouse” bill would place the system under the authority of the Governor of the Virgin Islands, not the Bureau of Technology where it currently resides. The bill would include a number of agencies responsible for providing information to the central database, including the ministries of education, health, social services, labor, justice, finance, l University of the Virgin Islands and Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands. Individual and family demographic data would be stored in the system for use by these agencies.

The virtual system would cost around $ 3 million and could receive pandemic funding, according to Sarauw. She also said the governor would appoint an executive director.

Alvincent Hutson, legal adviser to the Department of Education, which hosts the current virtual information system, said the department was backing the legislature with amendments. The recommendations of the Ministry of Education include the formation of a governing board or an executive board and the authorization of the executive director to hire staff. Hutson noted that the bill fails to identify sustainable funding.

The current virtual information system was set up in 2013 at a cost of approximately $ 5 million. In 2019, education ministry officials told a Senate hearing that there were big data gaps. At the same hearing, Education Commissioner Raquel Berry-Benjamin said the ministry would need three quarters of a million dollars a year to complete a renewed mandate.

Testifying in favor of the bill, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said she “fully supports and is enthusiastic” about the bill. She commented that there should be an executive director to oversee the system.

Others sent written testimony read in the file. Noreen Michael, research director at the School of Nursing at the University of the Virgin Islands, said the data system could be of significant benefit to health and academic performance, but must protect personal information. It also recommended that data sharing agreements be formalized and that sources of costs and funding be identified.

Denise George, VI Attorney General, also mentioned the lack of funding source and her concern for security concerns. Her written testimony pointed out that a similar system, put in place in 2013 with funding of $ 4.9 million, lacked ongoing funding and may have had problems with data collection.

Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Office of Information Technology, Social Services and the University of the Virgin Islands also spoke in favor of the bill while voicing concerns about security.

“I would like to urge, if we plan to add more personalized data to the system, then there has to be a strategic investment in cybersecurity so that the data is protected from those who would willfully violate the privacy of individuals,” David said. Hall, president of UVI. .

Most of the senators present at the meeting also commented on the lack of funding and the importance of security. Senator Milton Potter said this was a “significant concern” and Rupert Ross, director of the VI Bureau of Information Technology, said better tools and more resources would help the current system.

Senator Javan James said he “had no idea” what the system would cost and asked anyone who could tell him. Hutson said some systems used elsewhere cost between $ 2 million and $ 10 million. They should budget between $ 1 million and $ 3 million, he said. The education ministry enjoys substantial software discounts of up to 40%, he added.

Senator Franklin Johnson asked how much a security program would cost, but Ross said he didn’t know.

Sarauw, looking a little irritated, pointed out several paragraphs of the bill that ensure the protection of personal data by the executive director of the virtual system. She also pointed out that the US bailout contains provisions to fund cybersecurity.

“We have to be more creative,” she said. “We have grants to support the data system. “

Senator Carla Joseph, chair of the committee, added comments at the end of the questions. She said it was “essential piece of legislation” and said she shared the same security concerns as everyone else.

An amendment regarding the personnel and budget of the virtual information system was made by Senator Marvin Blyden, who then proposed to forward the bill to the Rules and Justice Committee. The motion was carried unanimously.

The Senses were present at the hearing. Joseph, Sarauw, Blyden, Johnson, James, Novelle Francis, Alma Francis Heyliger, Milton Potter and Kurt Vialet, not members of the commission.


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