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