Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Soldier's Prayer for the Fallen

From Cabarfeidh

A Soldier's Prayer for the Fallen
"The Mansions of the Lord"

From the film 'We were Soldiers' - click here for the song, courtesy of the West Point Glee Club

To fallen soldiers let us sing
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord
No more bleeding, no more fight
No prayers pleading through the night
Just divine embrace, eternal light
In the Mansions of the Lord
Where no mothers cry and no children weep
We will stand and guard though the angels sleep
Through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Story of Sgt. MacKenzie

Seaforth Highlanders
Gaelic motto CUIDICH'N RIGH (Help the King)

I have wanted to watch "We Were Soldiers" for some time, and finally got the chance. It is a great movie that shows what our soldiers in Vietnam were like, at least before they started drafting dope smoking hippies because LBJ could bring himself to do what needed to be done to win the war, and could bring himself to bring our troops out if he wasn't going to win the war. Our soldiers never lost a single battle in Vietnam, including the Tet offensive, and it was only due to the traitors like John Kerry that South Vietnam was abandon to her enemies.

In this movie there was a song that sounded like the Scottish version of English, the tongue of my Whiteford ancestors. I looked up the words I could make out, and found an interesting story along with the lyrics of the song. It seems fitting to post this as we remember the bravery of our soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for love of kin and country:

The Story of Sgt. MacKenzie

Charles Stuart MacKenzie was a Sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders.

He went to fight in France during World War One and was shot in the shoulder, the military sent him home to Scotland for treatment, where the surgeon wanted to amputate his arm. He immediately refused, stating that he had to get back to his men.

During his time in hospital he was asked what it was like to kill 'the hun' (as the Germans where called then). He replied what a waste of a fine body of men. On the steps of the hospital, the last picture of him was taken in his uniform. This picture hung in his home above the fireplace.

On his return to battle, he and his men were engaged in fixed bayonet combat. To the best of my knowledge, and taken from reports of the returning soldiers - one of his close friends fell, badly wounded. Charles stood his ground and fought until he was overcome and died from bayonet wounds.

On that day, my Great Grandmother and my Grandmother where sitting at the fire when the picture fell from the wall. My Great Grandmother looked, and said to my Grandmother "oh, my bonnie Charlie's dead." Sure enough a few days passed, then the local policeman brought the news - that Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie had been killed in action.

This same picture now hangs above my fireplace. A few years back my wife Christine died of cancer, and in my grief I looked at his picture to ask what gave him the strength to go on. It was then, in my mind, that I saw him lying on the field and wondered what his final thoughts were. The words and music just appeared into my head.

I believe the men and woman like yourself who are prepared to stand their ground for their family - for their friends - and for their country; deserve to be remembered, respected and honoured. Sgt. MacKenzie, is my very small tribute to them.

After Sgt. Mackenzie was first released on our Tried and True CD Album in 2000, a copy of the song made it's way to the hands of Hollywood director, Randall Wallace and actor Mel Gibson. Immediately they both agreed that Sgt. MacKenzie should feature prominently in their upcoming movie "We Were Soldiers."

The rest, as they say - is history !

Joe Kilna MacKenzie

Click here for a web page with the audio of the first part of this song, as it was used in the movie, "We were Soldiers".


Scots Tongue

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

When they come a wull staun ma groon
Staun ma groon al nae be afraid

Thoughts awe hame tak awa ma fear
Sweat an bluid hide ma veil awe tears

Ains a year say a prayer faur me
Close yir een an remember me

Nair mair shall a see the sun
For a fell tae a Germans gun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

English Translation

Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone

When they come I will stand my ground
Stand my ground I'll not be afraid

Thoughts of home take away my fear
Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears

Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes and remember me

Never more shall I see the sun
For I fell to a Germans gun

Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Where before many more have gone

As Expected Deloitte Doesn't Blame EDS for Colorado Mess

Note: Opinions expressed on this blog do not represent the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in any way.

The Governor of Colorado hired Deloitte Consulting to find out what went wrong with their new welfare computer software designed by EDS. I knew that whatever they came up with, the finger of blame would not be heavily placed on EDS. Why? Because Deloitte has designed a similarly flawed system in Texas. When it blows up, perhaps Governor Perry will hire EDS to find out what went wrong here.

Denver Post Editorial:
System audit needs urgent follow-up

A report on Colorado's faulty $200 million benefits system says the network can be fixed. Governor appoints a manager to shepherd the effort.

Did the state really need a $365,000 accounting audit to tell them that their sputtering new benefits system needs management oversight? That was one of the key recommendations by a group from Deloitte Consulting in a 145-page report released Friday. It seems a tad obvious - after all, the $200 million system hasn't worked right since it was put on line last fall.

Other recommendations will surely prove more valuable, but even so - in the better-late-than-never category - it was heartening to see Gov. Bill Owens create a position to oversee the Colorado Benefits Management System. The system was meant to streamline and speed the processing of $2 billion in benefits annually for some 600,000 people who are eligible for food stamps, old-age pension, Medicaid and other government aid. Owens appointed Republican Rep. John Witwer, a retired physician from Evergreen, to become the new system director in charge of management, planning and operations. Witwer will be paid $110,000 a year starting June 1. He immediately resigned his $30,000-a-year legislative post.

Panel to monitor progress

In addition, Owens issued an order creating a nine-member panel to see that the report's 90 or so recommendations are followed and to make new recommendations, if necessary.

The recommendations could take years to implement and come at a cost that the governor's office hasn't yet estimated. Among them are more training for county officials in charge of ensuring people get their benefits, reorganizing system operations such as help desks, and eliminating computer problems that result in people being improperly denied benefits.

The state paid for the report and so naturally it puts a surprising chunk of blame on county workers for being inadequately trained to use the system. Gilpin County Commissioner Jeanne Nicholson, who will represent counties on the new steering committee, said she was unhappy that the report placed so much of the burden on counties. When the system went online Sept. 1, some counties complained it was premature based on pilot tests which suggested the system wasn't ready. Nicholson said counties were very excited about integrating the old and new systems, "but we were concerned about starting before the new system was ready," she said.

System snafus caused a backlog of tens of thousands of cases. A judge ordered the state to clear the backlog and, as of Friday, Marva Hammons, executive director of the Department of Humans Services, claimed it had been reduced to 9,000 cases.

Surprisingly absent from the report were specific details related to the system architect, Electronic Data Systems. EDS was blamed by Gov. Owens last year for launching the system without adequate capacity. The attorney general is looking into whether EDS met its contractual obligations.

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D- Denver, said he is glad Witwer was picked to oversee the system. "The state needs to treat this like a crisis," Gordon said. "I like that they've hired John Witwer. This \[system\] isn't a normal government activity. This is life or death for some people."

Witwer is a former member of the Joint Budget Committee and a lawmaker known for being fair and honest. During Friday's briefing, he went to the heart of the matter by saying his first task would be to eliminate potential problems that the report said could be "life-threatening," such as clients not getting vital medication or treatment. Deloitte officials, when asked, said there was no evidence anyone has been harmed by the delays. Client advocates say many people have been harmed.

"My goal is to make sure that those people who are eligible for benefits get timely and accurate processing," Witwer said.

The report made a point of not assigning blame or saying "why" the problems occurred. State officials have made a point of not taking responsibility and continued to do the same.

"Mistakes were made"

During the unveiling of the report, Owens spokesman Dan Hopkins was asked about the lack of a management structure. Hopkins replied: "Mistakes were made in how it was structured. That's not to blame the people involved." The original system manager left before the system went online due in part to the state's budget problems, state officials said.

Only Karen Reinertson, executive director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, on Friday suggested that perhaps the state had a role in the problems. Reinertson said that the four state employees in her department and 12 in the Department of Human Services who were assigned to deal with the system never worked on the system full-time. "It's not something you can come in and out of," Reinertson acknowledged. She went on to allow as how in the future, based on the recommendations, perhaps it's better to assign employees who can give it their full attention.

The bottom line in Friday's unveiling was two-fold. Deloitte's Tim Davis concluded that "obviously the system is not where we want it to be right now." But on the bright side he said the system can be fixed. "CBMS is stabilizing, and can become the tool envisioned when the project was first conceived."

Hurray. Now let's see some results.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Welfare computer flawed throughout

May 28, 2005
Welfare computer flawed throughout


DENVER - Colorado’s new welfare computer system is riddled with problems, from the software to the team set up to manage it, according to a private audit of the $200 million system released Friday.

The $365,000, six-week study by Deloitte Consulting LLP delivered a stinging analysis of the Colorado Benefits Management System, or CBMS. It charged that software bugs cause confusing information to be sent to welfare recipients and incorrect benefits to be issued.

The CBMS issues went live eight months ago after nearly a decade of development. It manages more than $2 billion a year in welfare benefits — including cash assistance, Medicaid reimbursements, food stamps, housing vouchers — to about 380,000 of Colorado’s neediest residents.

But it immediately caused a backlog of cases throughout the state that rose to 30,000. The backlog has been reduced to about 9,000 cases, officials said Friday.

The Deloitte report found the state did not have the technical expertise or management structure in place to quickly fix the system’s problems. It also determined that county welfare workers who use the system had received inadequate training and aren’t offered sufficient technical help.

“The system is not where we want it to be,” said Tim Davis, a member of the Deloitte team.

The report offered 94 recommendations for reforming CBMS, everything from technical software changes to a complete overhaul of the way the system is managed.

“Our goal was not to address why the problems existed,” Davis said. “Our goal was to determine what we can do in the near term and the longer term to move this system forward.”

Officials from the El Paso County Department of Human Services — the department that oversees local welfare programs — would not comment on the report, because they had not seen it.

“Anything that the state and governor can do to the workings of the CBMS system, we will support and work with them to reach success,” said DHS Director Barbara Drake.

El Paso County — with about 68,000 welfare cases — has struggled with the transition from the old benefits system to CBMS. Many clients have received false or confusing mail notices about their benefits. One client even received 42 notices in one envelope.

Many records did not transfer from the old system to the new one, forcing county workers to manually review each case. Additionally, about 2,000 families lost food stamp benefits because of system confusion on eligibility.

Many of Colorado’s other 63 counties are experiencing similar problems, the Deloitte report found.

Gov. Bill Owens moved quickly to respond to some of the recommendations in the report by appointing one person to manage the entire system and creating a nine-member committee to comb through the recommendations.

He named Rep. John Witwer, R-Evergreen, to oversee CBMS. Witwer, a retired radiologist who has served on the legislative budget committee, will earn $110,000 a year. He’ll step down from the General Assembly immediately and begin the new job Wednesday.

“The Deloitte report calls for establishing a single voice that is ultimately responsible for decision making and direction for CBMS,” Owens said. “Dr. Witwer will be an effective and forceful manager who will assure that the CBMS system will reach its full potential.”

Witwer said he hopes to quickly take stock of technical problems within CBMS so the state can move swiftly to solve them.

“I see my job as primarily a communicator and coordinator,” Witwer said. “If there is a problem, we have to find out where it is and how to solve it, whether it is technical or on the human side.”

Witwer is already working with the governor’s budget experts to determine what it will cost to put some of the report’s other recommendations into play, such as creating a better training system and putting together a full-time troubleshooting team and help desk staff.

“It’s a matter of priorities,” he said. “This is good money that is being spent on a huge part of the state budget.”

Some of the recommendations, he said, could take months or years to implement.

“It doesn’t answer the question my constituents keep asking, like when do we get relief,” said Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs. “I’m disappointed and frustrated because we need to fix things right now. People can’t wait for a year or more for us to solve their problems.”


1-303-837-0613 or



The state of Colorado spent $200 million developing the Colorado Benefits Management System over nearly a decade. Here is a look at some of the problems it’s faced:

Sept. 1, 2004 — The last wave of welfare checks and food stamps were sent out in Colorado using older computer systems. Numerous counties, including El Paso County, ask the state to delay the new program, saying the system is not ready. Gov. Bill Owens disregards the requests and orders it to be implemented.

Oct. 1, 2004 — The new benefits system is used for the first time. Thousands of needy Coloradans don’t get their welfare checks or food stamps.

October 2004 — A group sues to force the state to go back to the old system.

November 2004 — The new system keeps county welfare officials from processing new applications. The statewide backlog stands at 29,000.

December 2004 — Backlog of applications drops to between 8,000 and 10,000, where it stands today. Also, a Denver District Court judge lets the new system stay in place, but orders the state to set up an emergency call center and hire extra staff to make sure problems are handled. Problems continue.

March 2005 — Owens asks Deloitte Consulting LLP to do a private audit of the new system to determine how to fix the system. The cost is $365,000.

May 27, 2005 — Deloitte delivers its audit, citing software bugs and poor management as the primary problems.


-Appoint a project manager.

The governor acted quickly by picking Rep. John Witwer, R-Evergreen. He will coordinate between state officials who control welfare funds and county agencies that deliver aid directly to Colorado’s neediest families.

-Fix software bugs. Some caused confusing and contradictory information to be sent to welfare clients, and others caused inaccurate benefits to be issued.

-Dedicate full-time state employees, including a team of computer experts, to rapidly fix software problems and a full-time help desk to assist county welfare employees who have problems with the software.

-Create an up-to-date list of commonly asked questions that counties can use.

-Create a system that can test changes before they go live in the system.

Do a better job training the 2,800 county employees who use the system.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Da Vinci Code

Fr. Joseph Huneycutt has finished his series of posts on the Da Vinci code.

It is a testimony to the ignorance of the average person these days that such a steaming pile of... nonsense is at all taken seriously by people. The book is absolutely worthless in terms of history. No historian of any merit could support the basic contentions of this book.

This book makes outrageous historical claims, and then provides nothing but the wildest speculation to support it, and makes assertions of fact that are demonstrably, and objectively false (such as the assertion that Christ was thought to be just a prophet prior to the council of Nicea).

What is disappointing is that Ron Howard is going to make a movie version. What is even more disappointing is that Tom Hanks is going to star in it. Tom Hanks is an ostensibly Greek Orthodox Christian... but apparently only in the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" sense of "Well, honey, now I'm Greek too." It's a shame... Up until now, he has been one of my favorite actors. Unless they do a total re-write in the screen play, this will be another "Last Temptation of Christ." I refuse to watch a Martin Scorsese film to this day. I will hate having to add Ron Howard and Tom Hanks to my private boycott list.

Let's hope the spirit of Aunt Bee will haunt Ron Howard, and he will have a change of heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Evidence of the Resurrection

Last night I had occassion to watch 20/20's segment on the Resurrection of Christ. It allowed conservative scholars more time than is typical of such programs, and so I was happy to see that, but they allowed liberal scholars to make some truly stupid arguments that went unanswered. The one I was most struck by was some liberals who argued that the origin of the Resurrection faith of the Apostles was simply visions that they had, which they believed to be real. As proof of this, one made the argument that earliest recorded resurrection accounts are found in the epistles of St. Paul, and they speak only of people having such visions.

This is what this scholar was referring to:

"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [St. Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time" (1st Corinthians 15:1-8).

St. Paul was himself a notorious opponent of Christians, who had a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus and went from being the chief foe of Christianity to being its greatest advocate. His encounter was indeed a vision. However, when 500 people see someone at once, that is not a vision... that is a very real encounter with a real, physical person. And St. Paul says that most of those witnesses were still living. Were this not so, it could have easily been disproven by those Jews who rejected Christ, and who actively opposed the work of the Apostles. Furthermore, the Apostles died horrible deaths (with the exception of the Apostle John) rather than renounce their faith. Had their faith been merely based on fond memories of a dead Rabbi, combined with wishful thinking, at least some of them would have cracked... but none did.

The fact that such scholars can make the arguments that they do, when the evidence they point to so clearly does not support their claims is a testimony to the fact that many people simply choose to reject evidence for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the evidence, rather than to take the evidence seriously.

As St. John put it:

"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

See this article that lays out the evidence in favor of the Resurrection of Christ.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Austin TV News Picks up on Texas' Welfare Computer Glitches

A CBS affiliate in Austin has a report on the new welfare software that is being implemented in Texas (TIERS), and says that to date, TIERS has cost Texas almost 300 Million Dollars, and it still doesn't work. They also say that the State is charging ahead with plans to implement this new software, Call Centers, and staff reductions all at one time. Add to that the likelihood that they will outsource much of this to Accenture, and you have a disaster on the horizon that will make the mess in Colorado look like small change.

It is unfortunate that this station is only picking up on this now, because opportunities to do anything to stop this in the current legislative session are fading quickly.

Click here to view this report.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Finger Pointing in Colorado

Blame aplenty in benefits mess
Counties and state played roles in debacle
By Karen Augé
Denver Post Staff Writer

Nearly every agency, contractor and department that touched the state's new $200 million computer benefits system in some way contributed to its debacle, a Denver Post review of state records has found.

And even as a $300,000 audit of what went wrong goes on - and thousands of needy, elderly and sick Coloradans wait for their food stamps and health care - "nobody has ever stood up and said, 'I'm responsible,"' said Edwin Kahn, one of several attorneys who have taken the state to court over its implementation of the Colorado Benefits Management System.

"I think somebody should be held accountable in the executive branch and also the governor's Office of (Innovation and Technology) and indirectly the governor," Kahn said.

The CBMS has a noble goal: a single, streamlined and speedy computer system for all of Colorado's social benefits programs.

With such a system, clients would no longer have to drive all over town and file half a dozen applications. Counties would save millions. The sick, the needy, elderly and children could get help immediately.

What could go wrong? A lot.

The system took longer and cost more to create than anyone predicted.

And when it finally debuted last Sept. 1, more than a year late but nevertheless over the protests of many who felt it still wasn't ready, CBMS unleashed a torrent of misery as some of the state's neediest people struggled to get the help they needed.

In the eight months since the system launched, the state, the contractor and the counties have blamed one another for the the problems.

But a review of records and correspondence associated with CBMS indicates that they all bear some responsibility.

The contractor, Electronic Data Systems, failed to meet critical early deadlines, underestimated the capacity the system needed and, according to state officials, was way off in its calculations of how many people and hours it would take to design key parts of the system.

The state realized early on it could not afford all it wanted out of the system, but forged ahead anyway. As one veteran of the project who didn't want to be identified put it, "The state never had enough resources assigned to the project."

Counties administer the programs CBMS is designed to handle. But some of them failed to participate in the computer system's development or get their employees trained.

A final blow was delivered by a rotten economy, which forced layoffs and budget cuts in state departments and county offices, burdening fewer employees with bigger caseloads even as they tried to cope with the transition to CBMS.

"We have two companies, two departments and the counties pointing fingers at each other, and there is no way in our system for the legislature to get to the bottom of that," said Rep. Bernie Buesch er, a Mesa County Democrat.

In fact, in an appearance before legislators last month, members of the governor's commission on innovation and technology cited CBMS as one of the commission's success stories.

"I just lost my cool" at that, Buescher said.

Troubled birth of "beast"

Dubbed the "beast with many tentacles" by Gov. Bill Owens' spokesman, Dan Hopkins, CBMS dates back more than a decade.

After years of internal research, the state in 1998 asked companies to bid on the project.

When the two original bids came in at about $200 million, state officials erased some bells and whistles and assumed more responsibility for software design and the training of employees on the new system.

The state and EDS finally signed a $91 million contract in 2000. Work was supposed to have been finished in 32 months.

Things started going wrong almost immediately.

EDS got behind and missed early deadlines.

And, in a memo taking issue with a report critical of the state's performance, a state consultant said EDS "grossly underestimated" the time it would take for the state to complete what are known as "decision tables" - the computer codes for rules and regulations that determine who is eligible for which benefits.

In a March 1, 2004, letter, Michael Whitlock, a consultant hired by the state to coordinate the CBMS project, wrote that "EDS estimated that 752 decision tables would be required, when in reality 1,554 decision tables have been developed."

EDS estimated it would take three weeks to complete decision tables for food stamps, but in reality it took 14 1/2 months, Whitlock wrote.

The contractor takes issue with that.

"This was a pilot program to train the state how to develop decision tables, because the decision tables are the state's responsibility," company spokesman Bill Ritz said.

When CBMS was plugged in across the state last Sept. 1, the system simply couldn't handle the volume.

Asked how EDS could have made such a massive miscalculation,

Ritz said: "When the system went live, there were more users at one time than we expected. However, EDS quickly recognized the problem, and we aggressively moved to correct it, which we did at EDS expense."
Miscalculations collide

The addition of 12 processors tripled case-processing capability. But beyond that point, the state and EDS can't agree. The governor's office said the fix came at Owens' insistence; EDS officials say they initiated it.

In either case, in February, when the state submitted to Denver District Judge John Coughlin a court-ordered progress report, officials blamed the ongoing backlog on the initial lack of processor capacity.

Last week, Ritz called that "unfair and misleading."

EDS, for its part, says the state underestimated how many people would be using the system and the caseload it would be handling.

State officials dispute that. But they concede they never had enough people or money dedicated to the project.

"We brought the system up with not enough resources," said Marva Hammons, head of the state Department of Human Services.

"We all probably underestimated what we needed. I don't think we ever asked for in hindsight what we probably needed," Hammons said.

With the state and EDS both falling behind, CBMS start dates began to be pushed back.

Finally, EDS, Hammons and Karen Reinertson, executive director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, settled on a Sept. 1, 2004, start date.

Letters poured into the offices of Reinertson and Hammons, and Owens, from county commissioners, caseworkers, advocates for the poor, and a host of others - all begging the state not to launch the system Sept. 1.

"We were just dismissed," said former Arapahoe County Commissioner Debra Vickrey, who served for several years on a CBMS oversight committee.

At the time, Reinertson and Hammons sent letters stating that the decision was not whether to start up on Sept. 1 or wait.

"Rather the choice before us today is to go live Sept. 1, 2004, or to abandon CBMS altogether," the counties were told.

The reason?

"We were out of money," Reinertson said last week.

The state had already spent its allotment for CBMS, and then some. With each delay, officials had to scrape together more, and by July 2004, the state legislature had no more to give, she said.

Even if the state had been able to offer more money, Reinertson and Hammons remain convinced it wouldn't have helped much, because problems with CBMS wouldn't have become apparent until it went into use.

And despite their complaints, the counties aren't blameless.

In fact, some counties "boycotted" the training process, said one county official who asked not to be named.

According to a March 2004 letter written by a state employee, only 29 counties had reported their status on a system created by the state to track county readiness.

"The state ... is actively pursuing greater county participation in the readiness reporting process," the employee wrote.

Another letter, from the state to Mesa County, pointed out that nearly 30 of the county's 110 employees who needed it had not registered for training as of spring 2004.

The state is now spending up to $365,000 for Deloitte Consulting to figure out whose fault this mess is, what can be done to fix it and at what cost.

In the meantime, the state and EDS say they are making progress.

But critics say the efforts amount to a little bandage on hemorrhaging wounds.

"For a $200 million system, they're using Scotch tape" to fix it, Vickrey said. "That's a travesty."

Staff writer Karen Augé can be reached at 303-820-1733 or kauge@denverpost.com.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Quietly The Texas Welfare Meltdown is Beginning

Note: My comments are those of a private citizen, and do not represent the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in any way.

The Donner Party

The atmosphere in the Texas Works Division of HHSC is currently about where the Donner Party was when they had just polished off the last can of beans. People who I thought would never leave, are talking about getting out now. When a new job outside of Texas Works is posted, there is a general scramble to apply for it.

To give you an example, my people, in addition to having to do twice the work with half of the people that we used to have, they are now having to stick return address labels on window envelopes, because we can't even get window envelopes with our return address printed on them. We see good people leaving every few days now. I wonder how long it will take before a full scale breakdown begins to be obvious. The quality of case work is in sharp decline, and the people at State Office continue to act as if it were a training problem, or a discipline problem, rather that it being a question of resources, staffing, and workload. Just a few years ago, in fact just before they began implementing their current plans, we were doing the best of any large state in the country. Now we are doing terribly, but the problem is not the plan but the people who just a few years ago were doing great?

The Austin Chronicle is reporting that one of the three bills that would have slowed down the process of the implementation of TIERS is dying in committee. Two other bills are likely going to meet a similar fate. I’m afraid we have passed the point where something might have been done to stop the inevitable meltdown. Now it is, I fear, only a question of how big a disaster it will be.

A bill to slow down the rollout of the Health and Human Services Commission's Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, known as TIERS, has died in a House committee, says sponsor Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin. TIERS, which integrates the enrollment of recipients into various welfare programs, has limped along in an almost two-year trial run in the Austin-San Marcos area, and Dukes fears a full rollout could be disastrous for those enrolled in welfare programs. Problems with a similar type of software program in Colorado resulted in people stranded without benefits, an alarming prospect for those in an agency working with the state's poorest residents. Dukes wanted stringent testing of TIERS, under a full caseload, before it was rolled out in welfare offices across the state. The rollout has been delayed twice already. The HHSC, for its part, promises not to bring out the software before it is fully tested, but Dukes is not worried about the agency. She's worried about lawmakers, who may see the $400 million saved under the new integrated eligibility software as a deal too good to turn down as they finalize the state's budget. – K.R.

My Republican friends in Austin, for whom I voted, are squandering the opportunities that their election gains have given them. I regret to say that they seem to be doing it for the benefit of a few corporations, and probably because they are somehow getting benefits (or anticipating them) from those same companies, and don't really want to be confused with the facts or reason.

Republicans had best think twice if they think they have a lock on politics in Texas. If they make a mess of the Welfare system in this state, as they seem intent on doing, they will pay a price, and that price will be as high as the disaster is big. About the time the Governor will begin running for re-election, thing should be really hitting the fan.

Remember, most folks don’t vote for Republicans because they are Republicans, but because they are pro-family values. If you destroy the Social Service system in Texas to benefit yourselves and your friends, you will have little credibility on those issues. If the Democrats are smart, they will start running pro-life candidates who are against illegal immigration, and if they do, they will be swept to power faster than the Republicans can say “Herbert Hoover.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Accenture eyes Texas Welfare Millions

Accenture CEO Jabba the Hut, commented on the pending contract to outsource Texas Welfare: "Huh, huh, huh, huh! Jok we no bi wa ha ha no Billion Dollars he gu. Best deal for Tax Payers, ku wee gee. Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh!"

Here's an interesting update on (the Bermuda based corporation) Accenture's plans to get its slice of the Texas Welfare pie.

Accenture looks for large space
Mary Alice Kaspar
Austin Business Journal Staff

Accenture LLP and subcontractor Maximus Inc. are hunting for roughly 150,000 square feet of space the two companies will need to fulfill a $1 billion state contract.
Any office deal rests on successful contract negotiations with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, real estate sources say.

Sources pinpoint the 141,900-square-foot Southfield office building in South Austin as a likely option for the companies. Few large blocks of space remain on the market, and that building -- at the northwest corner of I-35 and Ben White Boulevard -- is vacant.

Hundreds of employees are expected to need a place to work should the state contract become a reality, real estate sources say, although the number of workers isn't clear yet.

"Accenture is in contract negotiations with HHSC. Work sites related to that contract are not finalized and will not be announced until the contract is signed," Accenture spokesman Jim McAvoy says. "Any speculation on the locations and [square feet] of office space related our contract negotiations is just that -- speculation."

Accenture's main Austin office is in One Barton Skyway at 1501 S. MoPac Expressway. Accenture employs about 320 people in the Austin area.

The Southfield office building was purchased in late August by Southfield Partners LP. One of the general partners in that deal is longtime Austin real estate developer John Lewis, who couldn't be reached for comment.

In February, the Health and Human Services Commission announced a "tentative award" to Accenture for call center services.

The deal becomes final if the two sides agree on a contract. Reston, Va.-based Maximus Inc. (NYSE: MMS) would be Accenture's subcontractor.

The estimated value of the five-year contract is as high as $1 billion.

Not so happy with the pending Accenture-Maximus deal is Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), which has sued the State of Texas over alleged "irregularities in the procurement process," company spokesman Ian Colley says. He says the lawsuit, filed in mid-March in Travis County District Court, was the only way the company thought it could "get a fair hearing."

Citing the pending litigation, he declines to comment further.

Jennifer Harris, a spokeswoman for the commission, says Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins has asked that the Office of the Inspector General review the process.

Harris confirms the potential $1 billion value of the deal, although she says financial terms and the associated numbers of employees still are up in the air.

The commission is discussing whether it would be more efficient for the state to operate a new call center or outsource that work, she says.

The goal is for a new call center to transform the way the commission's clients apply for and receive health and human services benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps, Harris says.

The commission's current benefits system operates with technology that's more than 25 years old, she says.

About 6,500 employees from across the state help hand out those benefits, she says, but roughly 2,300 positions could be eliminated with the new system. She says the commission will rely on attrition and retirements to minimize job losses.

"It's important to note that there will be job reductions whether we outsource the call centers or not," Harris says.

"What we're looking at is a significant transformation and modernization of the entire eligibility system."

Accenture is the U.S. subsidiary of Accenture Ltd. (NYSE: ACN), the world's largest management and technology consulting firm.

Maximus provides an array of program management and consulting services, primarily for local, state and federal agencies.

Mary Alice Kaspar can be reached at (makaspar@bizjournals.com) | (512) 494-2519.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Playing games with state benefits system

Denver Post Editorial

Playing games with state benefits system

The state has dragged its feet on repairing the new computer benefits system. More attention seemed to be paid to a broken lottery computer.

It certainly was bracing too see state officials scurrying to fix the broken lottery computer so Coloradans could play last night's multimillion-dollar Powerball jackpot. Yet they've dragged their feet when it comes to repairing the state's new benefits computer system - the one that has delayed food, health care and other assistance to Colorado's neediest citizens.

We applauded in March when Gov. Bill Owens hired experts to dig into the benefits mess and set a timely deadline.

But now The Post has learned that the review by Deloitte Consulting may not be completed until after the General Assembly adjourns next Wednesday. That's a major setback, or should we say, yet another major setback in this eight-month saga.

The Deloitte delay will make it more difficult for the legislature to play a role in getting the system in synch. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, chairman of the Senate health committee, sounded a note of cynicism, saying, "Why am I not surprised by the news that the preliminary report will not be available until after the legislature adjourns?

"If this were a private business, heads would have rolled a long time ago."

The $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System, or CBMS, was launched last Sept. 1 to streamline the processing of food stamps, Medicaid and other state and federal benefits for a half-million residents. Almost immediately, the system bogged down.

In March, under pressure from the courts, federal officials and the legislature, the governor announced that Deloitte would conduct a six-week review and present recommendations. Owens' spokesman, Dan Hopkins, said at the time the goal was to have the work completed before the legislature adjourned May 11.

But Hopkins said this week that a more realistic date is May 18. "They're surveying all the counties. It's a huge undertaking," he said. The new timetable means that lawmakers will have adjourned and so be unable to quickly analyze the report and recommend any follow-up steps.

Attorneys for welfare recipients are dismayed at yet another delay in the attempts to fix the balky system.

"The benefits system still is not performing satisfactorily more than eight months after it was implemented, and a substantial number of people still are having their benefits wrongly cut or have limited or no access to benefits to which they are legally entitled," said Ed Kahn, lead lawyer for the Center on Law and Policy, which sued the state over the troubled computer system.

Owens should be apoplectic about a situation that reflects so poorly on the performance of two of his key cabinet departments. It took the intervention of advocates for the poor and a district court judge to light a fire under state officials and prompt them to take the problems seriously.

After the massive problems with the benefits system, we understand the need to have a comprehensive assessment whose goal is to give public assistance recipients the benefits they are entitled to in a timely manner.

The new delay seems yet another instance of underestimating the work that needed to be done and yet another instance of responding without urgency. Compare that to the state's instant response when the Lotto computer went blotto.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Russians Celebrate Easter

Russians Celebrate Orthodox Easter

From Associated Press

MOSCOW — Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II wished health and happiness to millions of Orthodox Christians on Sunday as believers marked Easter, the holiest day in the Orthodox calendar.

"Let the joy of the Easter holiday touch every heart. Let this joy give you strength and courage to withstand all hardships and troubles," the patriarch said in his address, parts of which were broadcast on Russian television.

Orthodox churches use a different calendar than the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, which celebrated Easter on March 27.

At the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a massive church near the Kremlin that was destroyed by Stalin and rebuilt with a golden dome, thousands gathered for midnight Mass, including President Vladimir V. Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov.

Earlier in the evening, organizers put on a laser show that painted the church's white exterior with images of icons and famous church frescoes.

The Russian Orthodox Church, all but banned under Communist rule in the former Soviet Union, has experienced a major resurgence since 1991, with an estimated two-thirds of Russia's 144 million people believed to be observant.

In his Easter greetings, Putin said Russia was undergoing a spiritual revival.

"On this festive spring day, I'd like to point to the growing positive influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional Christian confessions on molding the spiritual and moral climate in Russian society," he said.


THE PASCHAL MESSAGE of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to the Archpastors, Pastors, Monastics and All Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox Church

'Therefore we were buried with Him
through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
even so we also should walk
in the newness of life.'

Rom 6:4

Beloved in the Risen Christ your graces the archpastors, the whole priestly, diaconal and monastic order, God-loving children of our Holy Orthodox Church. In greeting each of you with the Paschal kiss, I say to you these words of joy, replete with ineffable joy:


It is the greatest of feasts that we today celebrate; it is the finest of solemnities that we mark. The radiant joy of Paschal, which glows in our hearts, warms us amidst earthly cares, inspires us to a life of good and grants to us the foretaste of our own future resurrection.

The Lord opens to all the gracious fount of this joy and today does not ask at which hour he or she has come to accomplish his or her deed. He knows His faithful ones who have laboured from the first hour, yet He knows too that those who have come at the eleventh hour have perhaps overcome the most difficult part of the path. And there is no deed more pleasing to God than to bring this holy joy to those who do not know it, to those whose soul has yet not been illumined by the incorruptible light of Christ's Passover. And this light-bearing, transfiguring, life-giving joy will cast aside the stones from the tombs in which their souls have been sealed.

In singing the exultant Paschal hymns to the One Who has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20), we sense too within ourselves the miracle of being resurrected alongside Him: we are no longer dead spiritually, yet alive through the grace of God which has redeemed us from sin and death and has made us to be a new creation in Christ.

The miracle is accomplished by the love of the Risen Saviour who has vanquished death by His sacrifice on the Cross. For the salvation of humanity, which renounced God' plan, the Author of life descended into hell, humbled Himself unto death, even death upon the Cross, and granted to us the New Passover - the mystical transition from death to life, from darkness to light, from the world to the eternal Kingdom of God. And this transition is revealed to us already in this temporary life if we in these earthly wanderings through prayer and the humble acceptance of the will of God, through charitable deeds and ministry to our neighbours, unite ourselves to Christ.

In being liberated from the captivity of sin, with all our strength striving for the radiant light of Christ, we render our life all the more beautiful, for we increase in our souls eternal riches. As Scripture says, 'lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also' (Mt 6:20-21).

The revelation that 'God is love' (1 Jn 4:8) is the greatest gift to mankind of the Incarnate Son of God. Love transfigures, purifies and sanctifies all that is around us. And we, in following the Saviour's commandment on sacrificial, self-denying love towards people, are made a part of Divine love which, kindled in our hearts, fills our whole life with unextinguished Paschal joy. It is then that the apostle's words come true for us: 'Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God' (1 Jn 4:7).

Let us then travel along the way of salvation diligently and unswervingly. Yes, this way is always thorny and narrow. And it is not by chance than many around us in the world have abandoned this way, dimming their spiritual eyes by striving for power and fame, comfort and the acquisition of worldly goods, unbridled consumerism and endless trivial entertainments. The Church knows this road will lead the human race down a blind alley and will never make the human race happy. Yet the way of Christ, the way of bearing one's cross and the way of resurrection, lead us to the light which radiates forth from the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord. To live in this light is to vanquish all sorrow and sadness, to possess the fullness of peace and joy.

My beloved ones! Let us, as the apostle exhorts us, 'walk in a renewed life'. Let us reject enmity and confrontation, sinful ways and weakness of the soul. With every day and hour of our life let us fulfill Christ's commandment: 'Let your light so shone before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven' (Mt 5:16).

There are in our midst many people who feel keenly the need for help and care. These are our elderly citizens, the victims of wars, crime and natural disasters, all those who suffer from disease, poverty, loneliness, homelessness and who have no parents. Let us bring to each one of them as a Paschal gift our active love, our modest contribution and labours of charity.

'The day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ', writes St. John Chrysostom, 'is the foundation of peace, the beginning of reconciliation, the cessation of hateful actions, the destruction of death, the defeat of the devil'. May Christ's Passover bring peace where blood is shed and where hatred is kindled. May all people of the world extend towards each other the hand of brotherhood and working together for the common good. I assure everyone that the Russian Orthodox Church will labour in the name of the blessed reconciliation and the harmony of the whole human race. It is in this ministry that we remain as always open to joint labours with the state and the many and varied social forces, with peoples of different faiths and convictions.

In a few days time we will solemnly mark the sixtieth anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. In those difficult days, on the borderline between life and death, the holy Orthodox faith was awakened in the soul of the people with renewed strength. For many of our compatriots this became the beginning of a new life in Christ. Then too the radiant Feats of Christ's Passover came in May just before the people's holiday of the Great Victory. Christ our Saviour blessed with peace those who turned towards Him (Ps 28:11).

Beloved in the Lord archpastors, pastors and children of the Church, on this radiant and holy day I cordially congratulate you all on the feast of the Bright Resurrection of Christ. It is now, when the hearts of Orthodox Christians are filled with Paschal joy, that I hasten to share this joy with all of our brothers and sisters, both Orthodox and Christians of other confessions, with each human being, both neighbour and afar.

Again and again I beseech all ministers, monks and nuns and laity of our Holy Church to strive for perfection in faith and good deeds 'that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.' (1 Pet 4:11).





2005 A.D.


For more photos of Orthodox Easter Celebrations, see this page.