Thursday, April 19, 2007

TIERS: $425 Million, down the rat hole

Before reading the following articles, you should keep in mind that one of the primary reasons we were told that the old system had to be replaced was that it cost the tax payers $1.5 Million a year to maintain the old system. So to save that $1.5 Million, we have already blown $425 million, and still don't have a program that works as well as the old one does. And so in only 283 years, we should break even, and maybe by then TIERS will actually work.

Audit: $425 million system for social services worse than old one, tests find

08:47 AM CDT on Thursday, April 19, 2007
Associated Press

AUSTIN – The new social services computer system that the state has spent six years and $425 million developing is slower, less accurate and more difficult to use than the old system it is supposed to replace, according to an audit released Wednesday by the Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general.

The Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS, was supposed to improve access to state benefits by reducing operating and maintenance costs and improving the accuracy and timeliness of eligibility and benefit decisions. The system was implemented in Travis and Hays counties in 2003 and rolled out into Williamson County last year.

TIERS was paired with another new program that aimed to allow people to apply for benefits online, over the phone or by fax through the use of four new call centers run by a private contractor.

But the program was suspended, and the commission announced last month that it was ending the contract. On Wednesday, the commission defended TIERS, saying, "The new system works."

Inspector general Brian Flood's report included a test that found it took 45 minutes longer for experienced employees to process the case in TIERS than in the old system.

Report questions TIERS computer system
Health and Human Services chief defends system
By Corrie MacLaggan


Thursday, April 19, 2007

A new report raises serious questions about whether a computer system used to determine eligibility for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid works.

State officials rebutted the findings in the report and maintained that the computer system, known as TIERS, does work. But they are delaying a planned statewide expansion because Texas failed to meet federal requirements.

This decision comes a year after Texas halted a statewide rollout of call centers to enroll low-income people into state programs and a month after state officials announced that they are canceling an $899 million contract with Accenture LLP to run the call centers, manage the Children's Health Insurance Program and maintain TIERS.

The report, released Wednesday, said the commission did not effectively manage the call center and computer system projects, which have cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars.

The Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general, Brian Flood, recommended hiring an independent consultant to determine whether to fix TIERS, go back to the old system called SAVERR or choose another system. It takes at least 45 minutes longer to determine eligibility in TIERS than in SAVERR, Flood found.

Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins said Wednesday night that the report, requested a month ago by 30 of the state's 31 senators (except Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston) contains inaccuracies and represents an incomplete view of the situation.

Hawkins said that TIERS (which is pronounced "teers" and stands for Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System) works and that it's a vast improvement over SAVERR (System for Application, Verification, Eligibility, Referral and Reporting), the 35-year-old system lawmakers decided in 1999 to replace.

"Why anybody would think it's feasible to say disregard the expenditure of public funds and go back to an old system already determined to be inadequate is beyond my thinking," said Hawkins, who said that the Office of Inspector General did not interview him. "I think it would be horrible public policy."

[My inserted comments: It was horrible public policy to throw $425 million away, by contracting the program to a vendor, and then paying them the full amount before they had actually delivered a working program. It is not bad public policy to recognize that this waste has already occurred, and to use a system that actually works rather than continue to use one that doesn't in order to avoid recognizing that this waste has already occurred.]

TIERS is in operation in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties and was supposed to expand to seven more Central Texas counties this month and to the rest of the state by late 2008.

Hawkins said that the problems federal officials found with the program were issues with staff training, not technology.

"We have no reason to believe we won't be able to satisfy (the federal officials) with the information they need and the changes they request," said Deputy Executive Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein.

The report found that state officials let the new enrollment system go live in January 2006 even though Accenture informed the state that it would use a subcontractor's employees to manually enter data into TIERS because TIERS was not compatible with a software program used in the call centers.

Having those private employees — rather than seasoned state workers who understood state policy on eligibility — entering data about applicant income and employment into TIERS to determine eligibility was a major problem, said Michael Garbarino, deputy chief counsel of the Office of Inspector General.

Judy Lugo, president of the Texas State Employees Union, said after watching a presentation Garbarino made to Capitol staffers Wednesday afternoon: "This is what we've been saying all along."

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the agency thought it would work to have Accenture subcontractors entering data into TIERS, but that when the pilot in Travis and Hays began in January 2006, the system was overwhelmed with more applications than expected. Backlogs, along with problems attaching payment stubs and other documents to applications, led to thousands of Texans receiving benefits late. The system was supposed to save the state money, but the savings never materialized.

In April 2006, Hawkins indefinitely postponed statewide rollout of the areas served by the call centers, and last month, he announced that the commission would part ways with Accenture.

Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who led the Senate effort to request the report, said he hopes the commission fixes TIERS rather than going back to SAVERR.

"I just want to get it working right," he said.

The House Committee on Human Services is expected to hear a report today from a subcommittee that has been studying TIERS and the centers.

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said he will recommend that there be more legislative oversight of TIERS and the call centers and that the state not expand the use of either until the problems are fixed.

Herrero said he wants to "ensure that there's a system in place that is actually cost-effective, reliable, dependable and not causing anyone to lose the services they're qualified to receive."

A report by the Health and Human Services Commission's Office of Inspector General raises questions about a computer system, known as TIERS, which powers call centers to enroll low-income Texans into programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. Agency Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins responds.

Report: State officials made the decision to privatize the call centers using an analysis that relied only on pre-TIERS information, even though the commission had already decided that TIERS would be used in the call centers.

Hawkins: It is irrelevant because the decision on whether privatizing would be cost-effective would not have been affected by whether the system, TIERS, or the old system, SAVERR, was used.

Report: The commission decided to award the contract to Accenture — rather than the other bidder, IBM — by relying on a questionable evaluation tool.

Hawkins: The report fails to take into account that Accenture's bid was about $50 million lower.

Report: State officials let TIERS developer Deloitte hand over management of the system to Accenture in late 2005 even though TIERS had more than 500 deficiencies.

Hawkins: The number includes duplications and issues that had already been solved.