Thursday, March 31, 2005

TIERS Not Ready; How Can Call Centers Proceed?

My friend Samm Almaguer has the following press release for the Texas State Employee Union:

TIERS Not Ready; How Can Call Centers Proceed?

My Father was a strong union man. I would be too, if they didn't support the Democrat agenda. But Samm tells me that I am a "righteous gentile".

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Religious Conservatives Hail Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson takes a stand for the life of Terri Schiavo

When the Religious Right and Jesse Jackson are in agreement, you know we are in the last days.

I remember in the 70's having a higher opinion of Jesse Jackson than I have had in the past 15 to 20 years, but he has moved back up several notches in my opinion. As much as it pains me to say it, so has Ralph Nader(who also has come out in defense of Terri Schiavo). We are now seeing the honest liberals separated from those who are simply libertines (i.e., moral degenerates). On the one hand you have liberal Democrats who stand for principles that they really believe in, and on the other you have calculating self-serving liberals (such as the Clintons) with their fingers in the wind, checking to see what advantage they might be able to take from the death of this helpless woman.

Sincere thanks to Jesse Jackson. I may not often agree with him, but at least he believes in something, and so we have a common basis to carry on a conversation.

I was telling a Democrat friend of mine the other day that if the Democrats would stop siding with the Devil on all the moral issues, I might actually be tempted to vote for one again. Maybe this is the first step away from Beelzebub for at least a portion of the Democratic party.

Social Services Computer Headaches

There are two interesting articles out this morning:

Govtech: Social Services Synchronicity
April 2005 By Shane Peterson

Which is a some what technical article on the problems of transitioning to new computer systems.

And then this article on the lattest news in Colorado:

Help on way for CBMS: Counties get money to ease state welfare system's problems
By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News March 29, 2005

The Joint Budget Committee on Monday gave Colorado's counties an extra $4.3 million to pay for overtime and temporary workers to implement the state's troubled welfare-benefits computer system.

The money should come just in time to keep the extra workers on staff and processing cases for food stamps, Medicaid and staff assistance, counties said.

County commissioners had worried that if the emergency money didn't come, the audits of their social services departments would be scathing.

And that would have damaged their bond ratings, making it more expensive to borrow money for buildings, roads and the like.

The $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System, launched Sept. 1, was supposed to streamline welfare benefits and be more accurate than the system it replaced. But it has been plagued by problems, applications have been delayed and hundreds of people are claiming they're not getting benefits due them.

The state already had given counties $5 million for the transition to CBMS. Also on Monday, the lawyers suing the state on behalf of Colorado's needy filed more affidavits, alleging that dozens of welfare applicants weren't helped by the state's new emergency call center.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy said in an affidavit that it referred 79 cases to the attorney general between Jan. 18 and March 24. Most of those people had emergencies and had gotten no relief, despite calls to the state's 800 hotline.

The Colorado Center for Law and Policy also claimed $512,000 in legal expenses for some 2,000 hours of legal work.

CBMS remains broken, with complaint calls on the rise, the lawyers said.

Gov. Bill Owens says CBMS is here to stay, has made progress in reducing the case backlog and is processing most claims accurately.

But the lawyers say they are receiving 100 calls a week from "desperate and frustrated people" who can't get food stamps, cash assistance or Medicaid. Almost every day they get a call from a pregnant woman who applied for Medicaid last fall, but still can't get prenatal care because of backlogs or delays in CBMS, they say.

They gave these examples:

• A 19-year-old woman about to give birth applied for Medicaid in August, was referred to the attorney general in November, called the emergency number in January but still is being told to be patient.

• A 54-year-old man with end- stage liver failure can't get on the transplant list because his Medicaid approval has been delayed. He tried the emergency number in January, but so far nothing.

• A 38-year-old amputee is facing eviction because he can't purchase colostomy supplies while his Medicaid application is pending. His case manager tried the emergency call number but hasn't gotten a response in two weeks.

EDS, the company that put together CBMS, has built similar systems in three other states. But Colorado wanted more control over the system than other states to make sure that applicants weren't, for example, receiving food stamps in both Chaffee and Lake counties, according to minutes of state committees that met to discuss CBMS during design.

Also, state officials wanted to make sure counties were asking enough questions to determine illegal-immigrant status, according to the minutes. The result was hundreds of complex decision tables that determine eligibility. Tweaking those decision tables is the responsibility of the state.

Ninety-one system defects, the responsibility of EDS, have been found so far.

Hundreds of decision-table errors, the responsibility of the state, also have been found.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy asked Owens to make sure Deloitte Consulting, the firm hired to review CBMS, asks tough questions, including:

• How was CBMS supposed to perform, and how close is it to performing at that level?

• How many people will be needed to process cases in a timely manner? How does that compare to the old system?

Monday, March 28, 2005

St. Benedict's Feast Day this past weekend

This weekend I fly up to Oklahoma City to visit St. Benedict Orthodox Church, and celebrate their feast day with them. This is the parish that brought me and my wife into the Church, and so it has a special place in our hearts. It is hard to imagine how I would have discovered Orthodoxy, had they not been there.

When I was attending their as a regular parishioner, they were in a small store front location. Nevertheless, when I first attended I had a taste of what St. Vladimir's ambassadors to Constantinople experienced when they entered the services at the Hagia Sophia. Obviously, the building was not itself impressive, but the beauty of the services shown through, despite the humble facilities. But now the facilities are not quite so humble.

They finally moved into their permanent Church a few years ago, and they are now paintint the walls with icons. It was joy to be there for their feast, and also to see how far they have come, and how much they have grown. It gives mission parishes such as my own, hope.

Click here for some pictures of how the Church looked last Christmas. It now looks even better, and hopefully they will soon be posting photos of this past Sunday.

Bishop Peter came to serve the hierarchical services, which was the first episcopal visit to St. Benedict's since the ground of their present Church was blessed.

The wonder-working Kursk Icon was present for the faithful to venerate. I was blessed to carry this icon on a couple of occassions over the weekend, and it was a wonder to be (even for a short time) the bearer of an icon with such a history.

The Kursk Root Icon

What a wonderful weekend it was.

The Orthodox Church in America Responds to Terri Schiavo's Plight

SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] — In a statement dated March 24, 2005, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, addressed the case of Mrs. Terri Schaivo.

"As affirmed on numerous occasions in recent years, the Orthodox Church in America fully recognizes and proclaims the sanctity of all human life, created in the image and likeness of God," Father Kondratick said. "Life is a gift from God, one which we are expected as Orthodox Christians to revere and steward in a wise manner, fully recognizing the image of the Creator in every human being.

"In light of this fundamental principle, it has also been affirmed on numerous occasions in the past that extraordinary means of prolonging life, as well as extraordinary means of ending life, are inconsistent with the wise stewardship of God's gift of life," Father Kondratick continued. "This is especially crucial in cases in which no clear consensus has been determined with regard to a person's state, as in the case of Mrs. Terri Schaivo. As such, the removal of Mrs. Schaivo from feeding tubes as a means of hastening her death can in no way be condoned or supported. Doing so constitutes a gross lack of wise stewardship of God's sacred gift of life and an extraordinary means of hastening her death by starvation. This is especially so in light of the fact that there has been no clear consensus on her level of awareness and responsiveness, that she has been and continues to breath on her own, and on numerous other factors and questions with regard to her long term prognosis. Simply stated, the removal of Mrs. Schaivo's feeding tubes is not and cannot be condoned."

Friday, March 25, 2005

Take a virtual pilgrimage to Mt. Athos

Every wanted to see Mt. Athos in Greece? My friend Patrick Barnes got to go, and set up a nice web page of photos.

He also recently visit St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona, which is a little piece of Mt. Athos here in America. Click here to see those photos.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Suggested Product Liability Warning For My Daughters

Warning: The bottom of this boot could be the last thing you will ever see.

In light of the courts determining that a husband has the right to starve his wife to death in the case of Terri Schiavo, regardless of the wishes of her parents, I am trying to come up with a list of product liability warnings for my daughters, to give adequate notice to any potential spouses they might have in the future:

1) "Warning: starving this woman to death by removing her feeding tube, in the event that she should need one, may result in you needing one yourself, after her father beats you senseless."

2) "Warning: In the event that this woman's husband should seek to use his rights as a husband to kill, injure, or otherwise harm her, the father of this woman may seek to resolve the situation by making her a widow."

3) "Warning: If you starve this woman to death, you should earnestly pray that her father has first attained theosis (i.e. sanctity)."

4) "Warning: My daddy considers your esophagus to be a feeding tube, and if you remove mine, he may remove yours."

5) "Warning: Removing a feeding tube from this woman could result in your ending up on Al Jazeera, tearfully pleading to have the feeding tube reinserted."

Disclaimer: This post is intended to be humorous. Of course, I would hope that where I in the position of Terri's father, I would handle it in as Christian a way as he has. But the way I was raised would strongly tempt me to beat the snot out of Michael Schiavo... but again, I would hope that I could resist
that temptation. But product liability warnings do not warn you of what will necessarily happen, but just want *could* happen. I would hope that any future
sons-in-law that I might have would be at least uncertain enough that they would not have to test the question scientifically.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Reasonable and Christian Position on Artificial Life Support and Euthanasia

"Sisoes, great among the ascetics, stood before the tomb of Alexander, Emperor of the Greeks, who at one time had shone with glory; and horrified by the inexorable passing of time and the vanity of this transient world, "Lo!" he cried aloud, "beholding thee, O Grave, I fear the Judgment of God and I weep, for the common destiny of all mankind come to mind!... O Death, who can escape thee?"

In its All-Russian Council of the year 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church issued a lengthy document which addressed a number of contemporary issues, and one of them was the issue of artificial life support and euthanasia. Feeding a person, as in the case of Terri Schiavo, is NOT artificial life support. But the question comes, where should the line be drawn. I believe this text did an excellent job of doing just that:

XII. 8. The practice of the removal of human organs suitable for transplantation and the development of intensive care therapy has posed the problem of the verification of the moment of death. Earlier the criterion for it was the irreversible stop of breathing and blood circulation. Thanks to the improvement of intensive care technologies, however, these vital functions can be artificially supported for a long time. Death is thus turned into dying dependent on the doctor's decision, which places a qualitatively new responsibility on contemporary medicine.

Holy Scriptures treats death as the separation of the soul from the body (Ps. 146:4; Lk. 12:20). Thus it is possible to speak about a continuing life as long as an organism functions as a whole. The prolongation of life by artificial means, in which in fact only some organs continue to function, cannot be viewed as obligatory and in any case desirable task of medicine. Attempts to delay death will sometimes prolong a patient's agony, thus depriving him of the right to «honourable and peaceful» death, for which the Orthodox Christian solicit the Lord during the liturgy. When intensive care becomes impossible, its place should be taken by palliative aid (anaesthetisation, nursing and social and psychological support) and pastoral care. All this is aimed to ensure the true humane end of life couched in by mercy and love.

The Orthodox understanding of an honourable death includes preparation for the mortal end, which is considered to be a spiritually significant stage in the life of a person. A patient surrounded with Christian care can experience in the last days of his life on earth a grace-giving change brought about by a new reflection on his journey and penitent anticipation of eternity. For the relatives of a dying man and for medical workers, an opportunity to nurse him becomes an opportunity to serve the Lord Himself. For according to the Saviour's word, «inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me» (Mt. 25:40). The attempt to conceal from a patient the information about the gravity of his condition under the pretext of preserving his spiritual comfort often deprives a dying person of an opportunity to be consciously prepared for death and to find spiritual consolation in participation in the Sacraments of the Church. It also darkens his relations with relatives and doctors with distrust.

Death throes cannot be always effectively alleviated with anaesthetics. Aware of this, the Church in these cases turns to God with the prayer: «Give Thy servant dispensation from this unendurable suffering and its bitter infirmities and give him consolation, O Soul of the righteous» (Service Book. Prayer for the Long Suffering). The Lord alone is the Master of life and death (1 Sam. 2:6). «In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind» (Job 12:10). Therefore, the Church, while remaining faithful to God's commandment «thou shalt not kill» (Ex. 20:13), cannot recognise as morally acceptable the widely-spread attempt to legalise the so-called euthanasia, that is, the purposeful destruction of hopelessly ill patients (also by their own will). The request of a patient to speed up his death is sometimes conditioned by depression preventing him from assessing his condition correctly. Legalised euthanasia would lead to the devaluation of the dignity and the corruption of the professional duty of the doctor called to preserve rather than end life. «The right to death» can easily become a threat to the life of patients whose treatment is hampered by lack of funds.

Therefore, euthanasia is a form of homicide or suicide, depending on whether a patient participates in it or not. If he does, euthanasia comes under the canons whereby both the purposeful suicide and assistance in it are viewed as a grave sin. A perpetrator of calculated suicide, who «did it out of human resentment or other incident of faintheartedness» shall not be granted Christian burial or liturgical commemoration (Timothy of Alexandria, Canon 14). If a suicide is committed «out of mind», that is, in a fit of a mental disease, the church prayer for the perpetrator is allowed after the case is investigated by the ruling bishop. At the same time, it should be remembered that more often than not the blame for a suicide lies also with the people around the perpetrator who proved incapable of effective compassion and mercy. Together with St. Paul the Church calls us: «Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ» (Gal. 6:2).

HHSC leader defends how contract was handled

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

In todays Chronicle, there is an update on the brewing scandal over how Accenture got it's tentative contract with Texas HHSC: HHSC leader defends how contract was handled:
Health agency faces IBM lawsuit and inquiries by the Legislature about welfare deal

Here are some excerpts:

Hawkins released a letter Tuesday that he sent to Democratic state Reps. Sylvester Turner of Houston and Dawnna Dukes of Austin.... Hawkins told the lawmakers he doesn't believe his agency mishandled the bidding and that accusations of conflicts of interests among agency personnel involved in the contract appear to be wrong or unfounded. But he also said he has asked his inspector general to investigate. "We believe that we have taken reasonable and effective measures to protect the taxpayers' interests in a fair outcome," Hawkins said....

IBM sued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission last week, claiming conflicts of interest and bias resulted in a tentative award of the contract being given to Accenture LLP. Turner and Dukes also wrote Hawkins with questions about the same issues. The contract, the final details of which are being negotiated, is worth $1 billion over five years.

Earlier this year, the Houston Chronicle raised questions about whether former Deputy Human Services Commissioner Gregg Phillips had potential conflicts of interest involving Accenture and Deloitte Consulting while drafting the proposed rules for bidding the eligibility and enrollment project.

A consultant who wrote the legislation for former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, calling for the privatization project went to work for Accenture after the bill passed in 2003....

The main allegations of conflicts raised by IBM and the legislators are:

•That HHSC hired as chief information officer Gary Gumbert, a former employee of Maximus Inc., the partner firm with Accenture on the bid.
IBM claimed HHSC officials said Gumbert was receiving retirement pay from Maximus and then said he was not.

IBM said Gumbert also showed favoritism toward Accenture in the bidding.

The lawsuit said IBM raised questions about Gumbert's "apparent conflict of interest" and was told he would be only peripherally involved in the contract award.

But the company claims documents show he was heavily involved.

Hawkins said Gumbert severed all financial ties to Maximus before he was hired in January 2004. He said Gumbert was involved in the bidding process but had no role in evaluating the bids.

•That Hazel Baylor, a former deputy commissioner of the Texas Department of Human Services, helped develop the bidding procedure for the contract before leaving the agency in September 2004 to go to work for Accenture. Hawkins said Baylor had no role in developing the contract proposal. He said Accenture also has assured the state that Baylor did not advise the company on how to write its bid. He said Baylor also received an opinion from the Texas Ethics Commission that her employment with Accenture would not violate state revolving door laws.

•That Baylor's roommate was Anne Sapp, an agency executive who had attended confidential vendor presentations on the contract. Hawkins said the two had shared housing several years ago and no longer do. He said their mere friendship does not constitute a conflict of interest.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Stephen Hawking on the Run

Blame Bush has another post worth reading. Stephen Hawking on the Run:

"British physicist Stephen Hawking has become a Fugitive from Mercy, having escaped through a wormhole as doctors surrounded his Cambridge home. Physicians were summoned Monday evening when his wife remembered that a few years ago, Hawking had asked to be shoved down a flight of stairs if the battery on his electric wheelchair ever ran out. Of course, he denies it in that goofy robot voice of his...but Teresa Heinz-Kerry will tell you that computers can be hacked.

Hawking has suffered from a degenerative muscular disease for 40 agonizing years, and he's never seen a single episode of Queer Eye. It's time to let him go. He led a long, productive life, but now he deserves to Die with Dignity, whether he likes it or not."

Cruel and Unusual?

Lee Boyd Malvo, the trigger man behind the D.C Sniper Shootings

Let me get this straight: it would be cruel and unusual punishment to put Lee Boyd Malvo to death by lethal injection because he was under 18 when he went on a killing spree, and shot more than a dozen people in cold blood. But it is humane to slowly starve Terri Schiavo to death.

But who are we to question the god-like judges we have these days, who feel free to write their own laws, and disregard the will of the people?

If judges are going to usurp these powers, perhaps it is time we consider making judicial appointments subject to up or down votes ever 4 years, to coincide with the presidental election. If they are going to put themselves over the executive and legislative branches of government, the least that should happen is that the people should have the right to send them packing if they do something stupid like letting murderers live while killing crippled and defenseless women.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste

The Feast of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste is one of the more important feast observed during lent. They represent in a striking way the struggle of Christians during the fast. But I first heard about the 40 Martyrs long before I became Orthodox... while watching John Jacobs and the Power Team on TBN (you know, the guys who break the bricks and the baseball bats, and blow up hot water bottles until the blow up). For the traditional (and more historically accurate) version of their martyrdom, you can click here. Click here for another similar version that provides original source references. But although the John Jacob version placed the story during the wrong persecution, and gives the wrong name for the 40th martyr... it preached pretty well, and from poking arround on the web, I've seen enough similar versions quoted in Protestant texts that I suspect it comes from some late western version of their martyrdom.

For some reason, this version refers to them as "wrestlers", though they were soldiers. But it follows the same basic outline as the older versions. They are told to renounce Christ. They are made to stand all night in a freezing lake, while bond fires and warm baths are set up on the beach to entice them to apostatize.

But here is the part I remember being struck with most:

The forty wrestlers were stripped and then marched toward the center of the lake. As they marched they broke into a chant similar to the one in the arena, “Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee the victor’s crown.” Through the long night Vespasian stood by his campfire and watched. As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord. Then faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song: “Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor’s crown.” Vespasian looked the figure drawing close to the fire and then out into the darkness whence came the song of faith. Then as if he saw the eternal light shining there in the center of the lake, suddenly, off came Vespasian’s helmet and clothing, and he ran out onto the ice crying, “Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee O Christ, to win for Thee the victory, and from Thee, the victor’s crown.”

Of course, John Jacobs put a bit of umph into the telling that this text does not fully convey... but this gives you some idea. So I have to thank John Jacobs and the Power Team for introducing me to these wonderful saints.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

If only Terri Schiavo were a Dog

If Terri Schiavo were a dog, starving her to death would land you in Jail.

Michelle Malkin points to several examples of people going to jail for animal cruelty for starving animals. Why isn't someone locking up that judge in Florida?

Something has to be done about these judges who think that they are God.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Foxes in the Chicken House

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

I know it's Lent, and I should be focusing on more edifying and pious matters, but today there are several news items that cry out for comment.

The company in Colorado that designed their ill-fated computer program (CBMS) will ring a bell for those in HHSC in Texas -- it's EDS (Electronic Data Systems), which was the original contractor for the first phases of the TIERS system here in Texas (and has it's hands in other aspects of HHSC). Well now the Governor of Colorado wants a consulting firm to conduct an "independent review" of what went wrong with CBMS, and so whom does he choose? Deloitte & Touche... the same company that has the current TIERS contract in Texas.

Deloitte ought to know a lot about computer systems that cost hundreds of millions and don't work worth a hoot in hell, because they designed the one we have in Texas. The only thing that has thus far prevented Texas from experiencing the same disaster as Colorado is the fact that the State of Texas has kept TIERS in a pilot phase for years beyond the date that the whole system was supposed to have been rolled out to the whole state. It is very curious how three corporations keep turning up with their fingers in the government pie: EDS, Deloitte, and Accenture.

As they used to say in the Ginsu commercials.... "But wait, there's more!"

The Rocky Mountain News has some information on what the Colorado Legislature is being told about what they can expect from the CBMS system when and if it is finally fixed:

“Now, they say, they're just hoping that it someday will reach the efficiency of the old systems. "We'd be thrilled if it approached the reliability of the old system," said Boulder County Commissioner Tom Mayer. "This needs to be the highest priority issue in the state." Mayer, a software engineer, urged lawmakers to investigate whether EDS designed it in accordance with the original specifications or used shortcuts. "Inquiring minds would like to know." …But Arapahoe County Commissioner Susan Beckman estimates that if CBMS starts operating smoothly, her county's social services department still will need 25 percent more caseworkers than it did under the old system.”

So, citizens of Colorado… if you are lucky, you might eventually have a system that works as well as the old system… though it will take 25% more staff than it did before. And ye Citizens of Texas take note, because currently the people in charge of HHSC in Texas are under the impression that a similarly flawed system is going to be so efficient that they will be able to cut 57% of our staff and still produce at the same level as we currently do.

But wait! It gets even better yet.

Back home on the ranch, in Texas, we discovered today that Accenture had some inside connections that possibly helped them get their tentative contract to privatize much of HHSC:

The commission (HHSC) announced on Feb. 25 that it had tentatively selected Accenture for the job. The Bermuda-based company has clients around the world and an office in Austin. …A week after the announcement, IBM filed its protest with the agency. Harris said state officials could not release specifics of the protest because IBM had stamped it proprietary and confidential. The agency likely will request an opinion from the attorney general's office, she said. "I think with the complexity and the size of a contract this large, and the significant overhaul that is being done with the eligibility system, it's not surprising that there are protests being made through our normal protest process," Harris said. The same day they received IBM's protest, state officials received the letter by Dukes and Turner. Dukes said she received her information anonymously.

"It is our understanding that Accenture bragged to another vendor that they obtained copies of (IBM's) proprietary technical architecture for the . . . proposal, and that Accenture's Tim Overend shared the architecture with a vendor, commenting that others were retaining the information on their computers," the letter reads.

Overend declined to comment when reached at his office Wednesday.

The letter also states that:

Hazel Baylor, a contractor for Accenture, was the commission's deputy commissioner for planning, evaluation and project management in 2004 and had specific knowledge about the request for proposals.

•Gary Gumbert, the commission's chief information officer, was hired within the past year from Maximus, which has partnered with Accenture on the project proposal.

Anne Sapp, a commission employee who had attended confidential vendor presentations as part of the agency's proposal evaluation team, is Baylor's housemate.

Attempts to contact Baylor at Accenture were unsuccessful. Gumbert deferred to the commission's spokeswoman, and Sapp did not return a telephone call.”

Anne Sapp is not just a commission employee, she was the Executive Deputy Commissioner of TDHS (prior to the consolidation) and in charge of the TIERS project, and you can see this (as well as Hazel Baylor’s old position) here.

But there is yet more…

Gregg Phillips, another person who has been playing on both sides of the table is also mentioned in todays San Antonio Express:

Gregg Phillips, who was the No. 2 official at the state agency until last year and was a key figure in the plan to privatize many agency services, now does work for Deloitte Consulting in Dallas, which subcontracts for Accenture. He did not return a call left at his Dallas office.”

At this link, you can see when he was with HHSC, dealing with Deloitte from the other side of the table. And now we see that he is on the Deloitte side of the table.

It is also interesting that Gregg Phillips and was involved in Mississippi's Health and Human Services in the early 1990's, where Phillips spear-headed a disasterous downsizing that ultimately had to be cleaned up after he left. He then went to work for another private company that contracts with government Social Services agencies, before being hired by HHSC in Texas.

How is it possible that people can jump so freely from HHSC into jobs with the companies they dealt with while on the State’s payroll?

The State Law should be clear enough:

“Bidders must comply with State and federal laws and regulations relating to the hiring of former state employees (see e.g., Texas Government Code §572.054 and 45 C.F.R. §74.43). Such “revolving door” provisions generally restrict former agency heads from communicating with or appearing before the agency on certain matters for two years after leaving the agency. The revolving door provisions also restrict certain former employees from representing clients on matters that the employee participated in during state service or matters that were within the employees’ official responsibility.”

What a tangeld web of conflicting interests. The people who are depending on the services these agencies provide are the last on the list of priorities here. Second to last are the State Employees who are getting the shaft in this process.

A reporter’s career is waiting to be made by getting to the bottom of these billion dollar boondoggles (and I do mean “billion”… as they say, a few hundred million here and a few hundred million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money).

Update: HHSC leader defends how contract was handled

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

Fr. Joseph Huneycutt comments on the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not.

But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my own failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen

Colorado Employees and Officials Feel Burned by Computer System.

Human services employess voice computer concerns today

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

By Marija B. Vader

The Daily Sentinel

Frustrated county human services employees will voice their concerns to state elected officials and others today over the state’s $198 million welfare computer system that doesn’t work.

Today’s gathering will give counties the opportunity to discuss the impacts of the botched system to clients, providers and county employees, said Pat Ratliff, a lobbyist for Colorado Counties Inc., the professional organization for counties.

“It’s what we used to call a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting,” Ratliff said.

Because the Colorado Benefits Management System does not function as it should, the state has overpaid clients to the tune of $18 million since September, when the system was put online, Ratliff said.

Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland estimated Mesa County is overpaying clients $185,000 monthly in food stamps alone because of the system.

“From a human perspective and from a financial perspective, we have to address the issue,” said Rowland. “It’s important not just to clients. It’s important to anyone who pays taxes.”

Like Colorado Counties Inc., Rowland is not seeking retribution.

Instead, she said, “I believe we will be able to work with the governor and the state to come to a solution to make it workable. To me it’s not about blame. It’s about fixing the situation.”

With its mainframe in Denver, the CBMS system links all county welfare offices with providers statewide, including physicians and pharmacies. The computer tracks and distributes payments for Medicaid, food stamps, temporary aid to needy families and other welfare programs.

Most of the overpayments are monies given to counties specifically for welfare programs by the state and federal governments. Once those governments realize the extent of the overpayments, they’re going to want the money back, Ratliff said.

The federal government will eventually want an accounting of money lost, Ratliff said.

“They’re going to want every dime recovered,” Ratliff said. Yet, counties “acted under a direct order from the state” to give the money away, even though state employees knew the computer was overpaying clients, she said.

“The state, to avoid further problems from the courts and the federal government, said basically give money to everybody,” Ratliff said.

Yet, as Rowland can attest, plenty of qualified people in Mesa County are not receiving their benefits.

In a memo delivered to Gov. Bill Owens, Department of Human Services Executive Director Marva Livingston Hammons, Department of Health Care Policy and Financing Executive Director Karen Reinertson and members of the joint budget committee and the House and Senate health and human services committees, Colorado Counties Inc. outlined several problems of the system:

Households are unable to obtain medical care, including medications.

Households that face eviction because of delays in receiving cash assistance are increasing requests to other agencies to avoid homelessness.

Food banks are struggling to meet the increased need.

County staff members experience high frustration levels.

There is increased client hostility and frustration.

Counties are now absorbing the extra costs for the time required to convert cases from the old system to the CBMS system.

Most counties anticipate a significant increase in staffing costs in order to provide the same level of service a year ago. These costs will “drain county budgets,” the memo said.

The federal government will expect to recoup overpayments.

Some Medicaid providers are not getting paid in a timely manner. That has put providers at financial risk, and some may close their doors to Medicaid patients as a result.

Colorado Counties, Inc. offered these recommendations:

It offered to help find a solution. Fixes should be completed and tested in a timely manner.

The Legislature should commission an independent system evaluation.

The state should deal with the issues now.

“Our clients cannot afford to wait months or years. They need immediate action,” the memo said.

Governor Asks for Review of Troubled Welfare Computer
Associated Press

Colorado officials are looking into whether the company that sold the state a $200 million welfare computer system should pay some of the costs stemming from widespread problems with the system.

The Colorado Benefits Management System is blamed for causing a backlog of nearly 30,000 cases last fall and early this year, leading to a lawsuit by advocates of the poor.

State agencies that work with the computer have requested an extra $8.3 million to cover everything from extra printing and postage, to extra employees to input data into the system.

Governor Owens says he has hired a consulting firm to assess the system, but he says it's too early to say whether the vendor -- Electronci Data Systems -- should bear some penalties and costs to fix the system.

Of the request for extra money, $3.5 million dollars is to cover extra employees to input data into the system as well as other workers, like trainers, needed to support the system. The agencies also want $481,142 to cover legal costs incurred because of a lawsuit filed against the state by advocates for the poor.

The Attorney General's office told lawmakers they are reviewing the state's contract with E.D.S.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Great Lenten Epistle of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus

Great Lenten Epistle of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Dear in the Lord brothers and sisters, while traveling through the salvific days of the holy Great Lent, let us rejoice together with the Holy Church on the arrival of the "God-granted time of repentance," and may we not be saddened by the arrival of Great Lent, but saddened by our own sins, for the time has come to heal them. As the Holy Church sings: "The fast is here, the mother of chastity, the accuser of sins, the advocate of repentance, life of angels and salvation of men." Lent is established by God—this is a divine gift, a period of prayer and abstinence, a time to protect oneself from all that is sinful and secondary, seeking only the One we need.

Lent is not only the abstinence from non-lenten food, but mainly a time to reveal our fundamental sinful sores and removing them. The Church teaches us: "Let us not keep the fast by merely abstaining from foods, but [let us put away from us] every material passion" One can only see ones material passions with a clean mind, and fasting and prayer are the best means to cleanse the mind. Lent is also removing oneself from entertainment. Life in this "electronic age" is full of all sorts of amusements which debilitate our consciousness; this has firmly established itself in many Orthodox homes, they are forms of entertainment that litter our souls with images of passion, which deprive the faithful of "the divine time of repentance."

During these cleansing Lenten days, dear brothers and sisters, let us leave behind our screens and monitors which blind our spiritual sight, let us close the doors of our senses to all that is useless, let us abandon enmity, quarrels, divisions, all that is extraneous, corrupt and harmful to the soul, and then Lent for us will truly become Great, and will bring us great benefit.

In this way, passing through the salvific Forty-day Lent, we will be able with a clean conscience and with the clear sight of faith to greet the Crucified and Resurrected Christ, and will able to worthily kiss His Divine wounds and prostrate ourselves before His glorious Resurrection from the dead!

+Metropolitan Laurus

Great Lent, 2005

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Charge of The Light Brigade

This is a poem that often comes to mind at work. I occassionally quote it to the staff I supervise... especially the part about someone up top blundering, but our part being neither to reply, nor reason why, but rather to simply "do and die".... on the job, that is. Now if only the surviving members of the Light Brigade had been able to blog about it....

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

Copied from Poems of Alfred Tennyson,
J. E. Tilton and Company, Boston, 1870

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Colorado Welfare System: Still A Sticky Situation

"Tar-Baby ain't sayin' nothin"

Here are three new articles on the Computer Glitch triggered Welfare System Meltdown in Colorado:

Daily Sentinel: Welfare snag a big threat, officials say Computer foul-ups prompt forecasts of looming disaster

By By GARY HARMON The Daily Sentinel

Friday, March 11, 2005

The state’s $198 million computer system is closer to causing a disaster than it is to streamlining the benefits it’s supposed to manage, a Mesa County commissioner said.

“I don’t know if somebody is going to have to die before the state admits things aren’t as rosy as it says,” Commissioner Janet Rowland said.

In addition to flirting with disaster, the Colorado Benefits Management System is costing the county $185,000 a month in benefits that shouldn’t be distributed, but nonetheless end up in food-stamp disbursements, Rowland said.

Recipients are required under a court order to spend the food-stamp money; they can’t turn it back to the county, Rowland said.

While that’s troubling enough, she said, even more disturbing is the chance that a computer foul-up could endanger a benefit recipient, Rowland said.

While the system has forced overpayments, it also has denied benefits to people known by Human Services Department staffers to qualify, she said.

Rowland said she has watched employees punch information into the computer, then seen the computer readout showing the exact opposite of the information that was put in.

A person whose readout at a benefits office shows him to be qualified for a prescription drug can go to a pharmacy and be denied the drug, she said. That’s because the pharmacy, looking at exactly the same system, will see him as being ineligible for coverage.

That’s where Rowland said she’s worried that a computer foul-up could have lethal consequences.

The Colorado Benefits Management System was originally a California system that officials tried to transplant whole in Colorado.

The two states, however, have different requirements and different benefit patterns, and the system won’t reconcile between them, said Rowland, who was public information officer for the Human Services Department before she was elected last year.

The system, for instance, recognizes only one other state in the union, so new arrivals in Colorado from any of the other 48 states all have to be logged into the system as having come from the one state it acknowledges.

“So everybody’s coming in from Hawaii,” she said.

Daily Sentinel: Welfare confusion making life hard for people in need

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Ten-year-old Mariah Ray’s insulin is running low, and even though her mother has been assured she qualifies for Medicare coverage, she’s getting worried.

Mackenzie Williams’ grandfather canceled her surgery to straighten her eye and said he was preparing to move to Arizona. There, he said, state officials would work more efficiently to arrange 3-year-old Mackenzie’s surgery.

The two girls illustrate the frustrations of parents and county officials trying to work their way around the state’s $198 million Colorado Benefits Management System.

In both cases, officials at the Mesa County Human Services Department have filled out the computer work needed to show the girls’ eligibility for medical benefits. In both cases, health-care providers have tapped into state-managed systems that are supposed to work with those at the Human Services Department and been told the girls were ineligible for benefits.

For the moment, said Mariah’s mother, Brenda Kent, she and Mariah’s father have enough insulin, but she’s watching the level closely.

“It’s like telling her, ‘You’re OK today; you can breathe,’” Kent said. “But it’s starting to scare me.”

Sue Tuffin, the acting director of the Human Services Department, said providers are in a Catch-22. They want to provide services and also want to be paid.

The system set up by the state simply doesn’t talk to the system used by health-care providers, she said, even though they’re intended to work together seamlessly.

In some cases, human-services officials have been able to have providers give services “on our word,” Tuffin said.

Many health-care providers also are smarting, she said, some not having received payment since September.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Human Services couldn’t be reached for comment.

James Williams said he can’t wait much longer for Mackenzie to get surgery on her eye.

The older Mackenzie grows, the less chance that the surgery will be effective, he said.

James Williams had papers from the Mesa County Department of Human Services showing that his granddaughter, for whom he and his wife, Sue, have custody, qualified for state benefits to correct her eyes.

He also has a copy of a form from her eye doctor’s office showing Mackenzie doesn’t qualify for Medicare benefits.

It also shows her as being born in 1901, not in 2001, as is the case. Human Services records show the correct birthdate, he said.

The foul-up is driving him out of Colorado, Williams said.

“I’ll wish ’em Merry Christmas and go on about my life and my granddaughter’s life,” Williams said. “Her safety and welfare are not something to be gambled with, and it upsets me when somebody else is willing to do that.”

The Denver Channel: Lawmakers To Review Problems With New Welfare Computer

POSTED: 9:10 am MST March 13, 2005

DENVER -- State lawmakers expect to find out more about the problems with the state's new welfare computer system this week.

The $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System, which went online in September despite complaints of glitches from county workers, has been blamed for a backlog of nearly 30,000 cases.

State officials reported last week they've slashed the backlog by 68 percent, but advocates who sued the state say they're still getting many of reports of clinics going unpaid for services and people unable to get the help they need.

Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Denver, and Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, have asked the two state agencies responsible for administering benefits -- the Department of Health Care and Financing and the Department of Health and Human Services -- to appear before members of the House and Senate health committees on Wednesday to explain what's been happening. Representatives of counties and health clinics are also expected to be at the meeting.

Hagedorn said he's especially worried about how the delays are affecting women seeking prenatal care. He cited the case of a woman who had to wait five months to be approved for Medicaid coverage. When she finally got a checkup at Exempla St. Joseph Medical Center, doctors discovered the baby had died in her womb.

Depending on what they hear this week, Hagedorn said, lawmakers could introduce legislation to help solve problems caused by the new computer.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Stonewall Jackson's Black Sunday School Class

General George S. Patton III grew up in California, but in a family that came from Virginia and was quite Confederate. His Grandfather, George S. Patton I was a Confederate War Hero, and a student of Stonewall Jackson at VMI.

There is an interesting story about one of General Patton's earliest memories:

"As a child who got on his knees (another lifelong habit) to recite his nightly prayers for his mother, Patton thought two small portraits on the nearby wall were of Jesus and God [the Father]. Only later did he learn that the two bearded men were Stonewall Jackson and the man who was revered as the "God" of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee" (Patton: A Genius fo War, by Carlo D'Este p. 39f).

While General Patton initially held these men in a bit too high of esteem, this gives you some idea of the reverence with which Southerners preserved their memories.

Stonewall Jackson is of course remembered as one of the greatest generals America has ever produced, but most people would be suprised to learn that this Confederate General considered one of his highest callings to be a Sunday School teacher for a class of free and slave black children. What most people now would also be unaware of is that Sunday School was the only school many poor children had in those days, and it was here that they not only learned the Bible, but also how to read and write. It was against the law in Virginia at that time for a white man to teach blacks how to read, and though Jackson was one who normally was a stickler for rules, obedience, and respect for those in authority, he regularly violated this law to make his children literate and fervent Christians.

R.G. Williams, Jr. cites the following quote in his essay: Stonewall Jackson, Champion of Black Literacy:

"Soon after one of the great battles, a large crowd gathered one day at the post office in Lexington, anxiously awaiting the opening of the mail, that they might get the particulars concerning the great battle which they had heard had been fought. The venerable pastor of the Presbyterian Church (Rev. Dr. W.S. White, from whom I received the incident) was of the company, and soon had handed him a letter which he recognized as directed in Jackson's well known handwriting. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘we will have the news! Here is a letter from General Jackson himself.’ The crowd eagerly gathered around, but heard to their very great disappointment a letter which made not the most remote allusion to the battle or the war, but which enclosed a check for fifty dollars with which to buy books for his colored Sunday school, and was filled with inquiries after the interests of the school and the church. He had no time for inclination to write of the great victory and the imperishable laurels he was winning; but he found time to remember his noble work among God's poor, and to contribute further to the good of the Negro children whose true friend and benefactor he had always been. And he was accustomed to say that one of the very greatest privations to him which the war brought, was that he was taken away from his loved work in the colored Sunday school." ~ William Jones

Many black Churches in the area were started by Stonewall Jackson's students, and he is still remembered kindly in these communities.

In fact, when the Union occupied Lexington, Virginia (the site of Stonewall Jackson's grave) "the Confederate flag which floated over Jackson's grave was hauled down and concealed by some of the citizens. A lady who stole into the cemetery one morning while the Federal army was occupying the town, bearing fresh flowers with which to decorate the hero's grave, was surprised to find a miniature Confederate flag planted on the grave with a verse of a familiar hymn pinned to it. Upon inquiry she found that a colored boy, who had belonged to Jackson's Sunday school, had procured the flag, gotten some one to copy a stanza of a favorite hymn which Jackson had taught him, and had gone in the night to plant the flag on the grave of his loved teacher." (from the same article).

See: Stonewall Jackson, Champion of Black Literacy, for more.

See also:

Before Rosa Parks refused to go the back of the bus...

Uncle Tom was no "Uncle Tom"

Denver Post Editorial: Progress in benefits system is illusory

Denver Post Editorial: Progress in benefits system is illusory

State officials have improvised to settle some public assistance cases, leaving the reliability of a new computer system a festering question.

Two state agencies overseeing the defective Colorado Benefits Management System submitted some pretty cheerful statistics to a judge this week, but there's really nothing cheerful at all about the ongoing damage to the state's public assistance programs.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy sued the state after its introduction last year of a computer system designed to improve processing of the state's public assistance benefits. The new system didn't work, but the old one was already in mothballs. Eligibility and renewal applications quickly began to back up.

The state departments of Human Services and Health Care Policy have been under court order to reduce the number of cases out of compliance with federal or state processing requirements by 40 percent at the end of February and another 40 percent in the next 60 days. Earlier this week the state reported that, lo and behold, its 29,300-case backlog in early January had dropped 68 percent, to 9,500, by early February.

The new numbers would seem to suggest that the new, $200 million computer system is now perking along. But county officials and service providers aren't buying it. They have seen a doubling - or worse - of pending Medicaid applications, and they tell sad stories about families who are not receiving necessary services.

What the state doesn't say is that it achieved compliance only after it went off the books, or at least off the computer, to extend food stamps in January to at least 8,000 households and health benefits to another 8,000 children. The agencies simply bypassed the computer system and issued the benefits manually. It was a welcome approach to the immediate problem, and we applaud it. But we take issue with the state fudging the numbers to convince a judge that it is in compliance with his order. A U.S. Department of Agriculture official said in a Feb. 15 letter that she has serious concerns about the state's "efforts to achieve compliance" on pending food-stamp cases.

The system went online last Sept. 1, designed to process housing, food and public assistance benefits that go to about 500,000 Coloradans each year.

On Tuesday, the legislative Joint Budget Committee approved $8.2 million in emergency funding to help fix the problems and sought assurances that state officials have an "ultimate solution." Sen. Dave Owen, the panel's most veteran lawmaker, is so fed up with the problems he wondered aloud whether the legislature should have approved the system. "When is all this crap going to come to a stop?" Owen asked Tuesday.

Indeed, we can think of no more compelling chore than to get the system in shape to handle its responsibilities.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

If I had a Hammer: The Limits of Privatization

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

Note also: If you are wondering why a priest is talking so much about the welfare system, see this post. Next week, Orthodox Lent begins, and so I will be blogging a lot less on this topic come monday next.

There is an old saying that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. This is certainly true with the privatizing government work to make government more efficient. It has almost become a fad, and one almost wonders if we will one day replace the military with mercenaries that work for a company traded on the Dow Jones Industrial.

I will readily agree that privatizing aspects of government business often makes sense. For example, if an agency has its own print shop, but there is a private printer who can do the same printing for less, it makes sense to privatize your printing. And that printer can do it for less because this is his business, and he knows how to do it efficiently, and he’s in it for his own profit which motivates him to find ways to be efficient. He can be innovative, and can readily change how he does business to find new ways to beat the competition.

However, when it comes to some aspects of government work, this simply does not work. One can find printers in the yellow pages, but one cannot find a for-profit company whose business it is to give people money, food, or medical care for free. There simply is no free market element to giving people stuff… for nothing -- which is what welfare is.

If the proposal was to contract with private charities, you might have something to work with, because the Salvation Army, for example, does have experience in giving people stuff for nothing, and doing it efficiently and effectively. But if you are going to leave the same rules in place that govern welfare programs today, there is no reason to believe that any entity is better suited to administer them than the people who are currently doing it. This is particularly true in Texas, were the Texas Department of Human services had one of the lowest error rates of any state in the country, and for 5 or 6 years straight received enhanced funding from the federal government as a reward for that level of accuracy (something no other large state had ever done). And the overhead cost in Texas are among the lowest in the country… it’s workers being among the lowest paid in the country.

A private company cannot be innovative when it comes to policy and procedures that are mandated by the State and Federal government. It would have to jump through the very same hoops. And what most people who have never actually worked with these programs often do not realize is that the policies are so complicated that it takes about 6 months before one can even begin to work these cases accurately, without someone constantly looking over their shoulder and checking their work. It takes about a year to begin to really work independently. And about another year before one has really been around the block, and knows how to handle just about any case that they might encounter. Private companies can only economize on staff – and given the low level of pay that already exists, there is not much room to economize. Paying their staff less, and providing them with even less job security and medical benefits will mean that they will have a higher turn over rate. Our agency already has a problem with high turn over simply due to the low pay and the high stress, which getting back to the time it takes to properly train someone to do the job right, means that at a certain point you are being penny smart, and pound stupid when you “economize” on their pay and benefits.

The part of our agency's work which has already been privatized (the Choices Program, which is the part of the agency that helps people find work) has a huge problem with turn over, and consequently has a high percentage of staff that do not know the policies pertinent to their work. In my job, I interact with these private contractors a great deal, and about a year ago had a problem with one of their workers who made an error, and when I spoke to that person’s supervisor I was told by the supervisor that she was new, and didn’t know the policy either. (Holy blind leading the blind, Batman!) I would also say that they have a much greater tendency to cut corners with policy, to do things that help them meet their numbers but cause their clientele to suffer needless (and often unfair) interruptions in benefits, and generally operate in ways that shift work back onto the state workers in HHSC than did their state employed predecessors prior to privatization.

In short, these private contractors owe an allegiance to making a profit, first and foremost – and while there is nothing wrong with a business making a profit, that is not why we have a welfare system. The number one goal needs to be to help the people we are asked by the government to help, and to give them the benefits that the government has determined that they should have based on their needs. If there is any other bottom line at work, then the eyes are on the wrong prize.

Why don’t we replace the military with mercenaries? Because we want soldiers who fight for the love of their country and aren’t in it just for the money – and who are answerable only to the government, which is answerable to the people. The reason why we should not have a for-profit corporation running welfare is because we should have people who want to help the needy of our country rather than people who want to make a profit off of the needy. We should want people who answer to our elected representatives, rather than to their stock holders.

What I would say to those lawmakers that are advocating privatization as a means of saving money is this: If you don’t like these programs, eliminate them. If they are too cumbersome, and you want less bureaucracy, then stop complicating them with the laws you pass, and simplify them. But if you want to keep these complicated programs in place, at the same benefit levels as we have today, then please properly fund the administration of these programs. When you cut staff, or have staff that don’t know what they are doing because you can’t find competent people who will work for the pay you are offering, or keep them when you do, this only results in greater fraud and abuse. It takes time, and knowledgeable staff to work a case accurately. It takes a lot less time and skill to simply give people what they want, and get them out of your office. We have to decide what we want, and then pony up the money needed to accomplish what we have decided to do.

For a recent example of Privatization gone bad see:

The St. Petersburg State: Reality pops state's privatization bubble


Convergys' star not dimmed by stumbles

And to read about Accenture (the Bermuda based company that stands to gain from the privatization of much of the Texas Health and Human Service Commission's work), see this page.

And also Accenture accensured

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Last Judgment

Click on image to enlarge

This past Sunday was the Sunday of the Last Judgment. This is the last week prior to the start of Orthodox Lent, this coming Monday.

What I like about the icon above is that it not only depicts the final judgment, but contains the Gospel reading in full for that Sunday:

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

Matthew 25:31-46

For more on the meaning of this Gospel, the significance of this Sunday in the Church year, and the icon of the last judgment, click here.

Welfare Glitches Continue and Worries About Texas Do Too.

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

Welfare glitches still a headache after half a year

By By MARIJA B. VADER The Daily Sentinel

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Online since September, the state’s $198 million welfare computer system continues to malfunction, causing Mesa County’s Department of Human Services to work long hours, often doing work by hand that should be done by a computer, said Sue Tuffin, acting director.

The Colorado Benefits Management System, or CBMS, causes headaches and often delayed services for not only county employees, but providers of the services as well as welfare recipients.

The system is causing some people eligible for food stamps to not receive them, while others are receiving triple their payments, Tuffin said.

In one case, a child that needed medication for a heart condition had to wait because the CBMS computer denied the claim, even though the child was indeed eligible for the drug, Tuffin said.
In another case, a Mesa County resident is supposed to receive $25 monthly in Old Age Pension, but the CBMS computer keeps spitting out checks for $540.

“We have to say — you have to spend it,” said Diann Rice, a division director for the Mesa County Department of Human Services. And she can’t give the money back, according to a judge’s order.

“She’s afraid — when is the other foot going to fall?” Rice said.

Tuffin and Rice updated the Mesa County commissioners Monday on the computer system.

Mesa County residents received $1.037 million in food stamps in January, up from $856,000 in January of last year. The difference, Tuffin said, is largely due to overpayments as a result of the CBMS system.

The vast majority of overpayments are made in programs paid for by federal and state dollars, not Mesa County tax dollars, Tuffin said. Employees of the county human services department often do not know how much a client is overpaid because benefit checks are mailed directly to the client from Denver.

The state director of human services has assured county directors they won’t be liable for overages, “but nothing’s in writing,” Tuffin said. And sanctions from the federal government, once it catches on to the overages, could cost a lot of money, she said.

“You would think the feds would be putting pressure on the state to fix it,” said Commissioner Craig Meis. “Once they find it, they’re going to crucify someone.”

To spend “$198 million to create a software program that doesn’t work ... every time we talk about this, my blood pressure goes up. This is a nightmare,” said an exasperated Meis.

Tuffin and Rice agree, the system could be fixed, but not without considerable effort.

The system has been blamed for causing a backlog of 29,361 total cases in several Colorado counties. Advocates for the poor sued and a judge gave the state until Monday to reduce the backlog by 40 percent.

According to the report given to Judge John Coughlin, state agencies resolved 19,840 of the original 29,361 cases that were reported as backlogged, leaving 9,521 cases still pending.

In Mesa County, employees have been manually inputting information on 15,907 cases since September. There are 2,727 cases left to go, said Rice.

“I’m very proud of the staff. We hope to be almost complete by the end of March,” Rice said.

At a recent meeting of Colorado Counties Inc., the advocacy organization for counties, members requested the organization send a letter of no confidence to Gov. Owens for Marva Livingston Hammons, the executive director for the state department of human services and Karen Reinertson, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

The CCI chair decided to not take that action because, “They wanted to take a less confrontational approach,” Rice said.

“How long do we have to take a less confrontational approach?” asked an incredulous Commissioner Tillie Bishop. “To remain silent is to accept what’s happened.”

“We agree. We’re at a point where real action needs to be taken,” Tuffin said.

What’s more is that the state department of human services recently requested $8.9 million in supplemental funds from the state Legislature, to cover software fixes, staff, legal fees and overpayments, all because of the CBMS computer system, Rice said.

“It’s amazing to me this is not front-page news every day,” Meis said. “This is our state’s Enron.”

Comments: When these articles speak of the Federal Government charging the state because of overpayments, this is because there are national standards of accuracy, and if you pass a certain threshold of errors (as determined by federally mandated audits of cases), you have to pay back the Federal Government a certain amount (based on some formula) that can add up to many millions of dollars.

In Texas, we were in trouble in the early 90's with our error rate. We cleaned it up, and for about 5 or 6 years in a row, we actually got about 30 million dollars in enhanced funding because we were doing so well. No other large state had ever done so well. But the thanks we have received is continuous budget cuts, hiring freezes, and now they are preparing to fire staff based on assumptions that do not add up, and projected time savings that are not there.

Texas could experience a melt down like Colorado even if we do not implement our own flawed computer system (which has an eerie resemblance to the one in Colorado). Staff shortages have reached a crisis stage, and staff are already begining to fall behind. Our error rate has also shot through the roof, and the response from State Office is that they want to know what the problem is. The problem is not that we do not know how to properly work cases, and issue accurate benefits, the problem is that we have been asked to do increasingly more with increasingly less for too many years. On top of all this, they are planing on closing most offices, and doing most or our work from 2 or 3 call centers... which is an idea they have not tested, and do not know how it will work, but upon which their whole staff cutting scheme is dependent. If these call centers do not result in a hugely more efficient process (which all my experience tells me will not be the case), we will not be able to get the work done that the state is counting on.

So to summarize:

1) Our staffing levels are already dangerously low, and this becomes more true with each passing day.

2) The plan is to implement a computer program (TIERS) which has problems very much like the CBMS system, and to roll it out to the entire state at one time, rather than to roll it out region by region, as originally planned (they have thus far not even rolled out TIERS to all of the Austin region, even though they were supposed to have done so several years ago, but have been unable to because of ongoing problems with the software).

3). The plan is also to consolidate most of our work into 2 or 3 call centers, begining in September of this year.

4). And they appear to be leaning towards privatizing these call centers, which has a whole new set of problems associated with it.

Is anyone in Austin watching what is happening in Colorado?

Colorado makes progress in cleaning up mess, but progress attributed to exta man hours rather than improved software

The Employees in Colorado are working 14 hour days. The Computer System is still hardly working.

There are two reports this morning on the state of the clean up of the backlogged welfare system in Colorado:

The first one is by Bill Scanlon of the Rocky Mountain News:

State reports drop in benefits backlog
Critics say numbers reflect staff work, not system progress

"Backlogged welfare applications have dropped by two-thirds since the first of the year, from almost 30,000 to fewer than 10,000, the state reported Monday. But officials at clinics that serve Colorado's poor say their frustrations remain.

"Our headaches sure haven't fallen by two-thirds," said Elena Thomas Faulkner, policy and development director for Colorado Community Health Network. "Our pending (applications) are getting worse."

Conflicts over the benefits system came to light last year after a public-interest law firm filed suit, saying the state's new $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System was rushed online before its bugs were fixed. The Colorado Center on Law and Policy argued that the errors kept food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits from hundreds of people in need.

Denver District Judge John Coughlin ordered the state to set up an emergency hotline by the end of December and to lower the backlog by 40 percent by the end of February. Federal law sets deadlines of seven, 30 or 45 days for states to process benefit applications. The numbers reported Monday show that the backlog in applications for food stamps fell about 80 percent; Colorado Works, a work program, by 74 percent; and health coverage for families and children by about 60 percent. Only financial and medical health for adults lagged behind with a 28 percent drop.

"I want to extend my sincerest appreciation and thanks to all the county and state staff who have worked nights and weekends to reduce the backlog," said Marva Livingston Hammons, Colorado Department of Human Services executive director. "Their efforts and dedication to this have been extraordinary."

But Ed Kahn, one of the lawyers who sued the state, said he cannot determine whether the drop in the backlog is due to the system working better or to staffers working around it to resolve individual cases.

The state's newly released numbers show that 7,500 of the overdue food-stamp applications shouldn't have been pending at all:

• 1,500 should have been closed but were not because of a software error.

• 1,200 were pending while the household already was receiving food stamps. The second application was a mistake, either by staff or the computer.

• 2,600 changed from pending to closed because the clients didn't provide information, didn't show up for an interview or were not qualified.

• 2,200 should have been closed because the families had applied for both regular food stamps and emergency food stamps - and had already received one or the other.

"I'm skeptical these numbers represent an improvement in legitimate processing," Kahn said. "It does seem surprising that, using newly hired temporary staff, they've been able to discover all these problems with applications pending since December."

The two departments that use CBMS hired temporary help and paid overtime for 14-hour workdays. They recently sought additional funds. Human Services spokeswoman Liz McDonough said much of her department's $8.4 million supplemental request was to resolve the CBMS problems.

Gov. Bill Owens said the new numbers "show steady progress. But more needs to be done."

The numbers also show that almost 5,000 households that may or may not still be eligible are continuing to receive food stamps. It remains unclear whether the state or the counties will reimburse the federal government for benefits that shouldn't have been paid.

The Denver Post's article by Ann Schrader adds a few more details:

"Meanwhile, a regional U.S. Department of Agriculture administrator told the state that she has "serious concerns" about food stamps being issued without proper paperwork. Some benefits may have been pushed through to get food to hungry people stymied by the computer glitches. In January, the state issued $80 in food stamps to each member of about 8,000 new households that had not been certified, said Darlene Barnes, regional administrator of the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service....

The $200 million computer system that debuted Sept. 1 is "cumbersome, it's unpredictable; the communication is terrible," said Linda Fairbairn, social services director in Baca and Prowers counties. She said federal officials probably will fine the state over the food stamps, and the state "will attempt to pass it to the counties, and that's when outright war will break out." The counties urged state officials to run more test programs before launching the system."

Monday, March 07, 2005

Greely Tribune: State must pay to fix computer glitches, Aid agencies suffering

From the Greely Tribune Editorial Page Today:

Debbie Allmer of La Salle wasn't nearly as concerned about the computer glitch in the state's welfare management system as she was about feeding her grandchildren.

Allmer waited months to receive food stamps for herself and her two grandchildren.

Because of the state's faulty $200 million system, launched Sept. 1, people like Allmer blame counties for problems that frustrate workers as much as they hurt needy Coloradans.

Allmer and thousands more Coloradans like her are being re-victimized by the computer system, originally championed as a way to streamline applications and the processing for programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

But the system has hurt infinitely more than it has helped. Contrary to its purpose, the Colorado Benefits Management System has slowed the process of receiving state and federal aid.

Phone banks and pleas for patience have done nothing to alleviate the frustration and fear of people who need help but can't get it. For Weld County's social services workers, the complex computer glitches has been mind-numbing and emotionally wrenching. In Weld, about 22,000 people in 15,000 households receive some form of welfare assistance.

Read More

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Sparing the Rod

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24).

"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).

"Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:13-14).

"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (Proverbs 29:15).

From the Associated Press:

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Police arrested an 8-year-old boy who allegedly had a violent outburst in school, head-butting his teacher and kicking an assistant principal, when he was told he couldn't go outside to play with other students.

The 4-foot pupil was led away from Rawls Byrd Elementary School in handcuffs Tuesday and charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery.

"It's not something that happens every day," Maj. Stan Stout said of what could be the department's youngest arrest ever.

Stout said the chair-tossing, desk-turning outburst occurred after a teacher, and later the assistant principal, attempted to stop the boy from joining his classmates.

The child was later released to his parents.


It wasn't all that long ago when this kid would simply have been given a whupin, and that would have been the end of it. But now most schools do not spank kids, and so the only alternative is this.

The question to ask is which is crueler to a child: to give him a spanking, or to discipline him through the criminal justice system?

The first line of defense against anti-social behavior should not be a policeman slapping on the handcuffs.

Denver Post Editorial: Computer fiasco adds expense

The Denver Post today has in its editorial section more on the welfare melt down in Colorado:

"The introduction of Colorado's $200 million welfare computer system has been a disastrous blunder whose impact is being felt across the state by Coloradans who can least afford it. And now the price tag is going up.

Days before the state is to report to a judge on the status of a backlog of public assistance cases, officials from two state agencies said they plan to ask the legislature for more than $8.4 million in emergency funds to fix the troubled Colorado Benefits Management System.

We're hardly in a position to tell lawmakers not to approve the supplemental funds - this system simply must be fixed. But it sure makes one wonder what happened to all those assurances made by state officials last year - under oath - after they were sued by the Colorado Center for Law and Policy, a public-interest law firm. The state said in effect that the system wasn't dysfunctional at all and that the backlogs would be cleared up swiftly.

Rather than declining, the backlog is believed to have grown. Since the benefits system went online last Sept. 1, food stamp applications have been delayed and renewals have been bogged down. The system was supposed to streamline and expedite the processing of social service benefits. But state officials ignored warnings that the system was not ready for solo flight. By the time it became clear to them that there was indeed a problem, there was no turning back - the old system was out of business. The new system has slowed benefits not only to food stamp recipients but also to people who are eligible for health care, housing and other government assistance.

Last November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees food stamps, warned state officials that Colorado's efforts to correct problems spawned by the new system had fallen short and demanded a plan to improve processing times and eliminate backlogs.

In addition, the state is under court order to reduce a backlog of welfare benefits applications that may number up to 40,000. The departments of Human Services and Health Care Policy and Financing were ordered to reduce the number by 40 percent by this coming Monday.

Officials from the two departments have finally acknowledged there is a problem, perhaps pressured by Monday's court date. They say the extra $8.4 million would pay for a centralized data entry system, mailings to clients, legal costs, an emergency call center, more staff and computer upgrades.

The bottom line is the system the state originally claimed was not broken is broken. Gov. Bill Owens needs to see that state officials get the problem fixed. It shouldn't take an angry federal agency or a frustrated state judge to get this done."

Friday, March 04, 2005

10th Anniversary of Ordination to the Deaconate

10 years ago today, I was ordained a deacon (it has been a bit more than 4 years since I was ordained a priest). So for 10 years I have let my hair grow, and run around in a riassa. While there have been a few occassions when I wondered what I had gotten myself into, for the most part it has been a joy... though not always easy. :)