May 27, 2006
Congressmen attack Accenture

The Accenture/Texas Health and Human Services outsourcing debacle is getting some attention from Congress.

Declaring it a failed experiment that is harming the neediest in the state, a group of Texas congressmen including Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, a San Antonio Democrat, urged state leaders Wednesday to immediately cease a plan to privatize the screening of welfare applications.

The story does not mention the names of the other Congressmen, and some Google News searching on my part came up dry. So, I called Rep. Gonzalez's office and left a message with his media guy. I will post the letter when I get it.

Gov. Rick Perry's spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, did not directly address the congressional request, but noted that Perry has confidence in the privatizing effort and in Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins, the point man for the outsourcing plan.

"The governor certainly believes that privatization is an appropriate cost-saving approach," Walt said.

You wanna own this loser, Mister Governor, you go right ahead. Please tell me how much money we've saved so far and how much of that phony $646 million projection is still on track. Be sure to show all your work.

Actually, I can see one place where we may save a few bucks, now that you mention it:

Texas signed an $899 million contract with Bermuda-based Accenture LLP last year to have the company develop an "integrated eligibility system" that would quickly and accurately determine the social services for which applicants qualify.

But the program has been beset with problems. The HHSC has twice postponed expanding the system outside of a small pilot project in Austin. The contractor's employee training program has been criticized, and a massive computer foul-up has resulted from an inability of various software programs to communicate with each other.

The program's critics say the foul-ups have led to people not receiving benefits they were entitled to. Others, they say, have been improperly denied benefits because of misinformation provided by poorly trained Accenture employees.

Not paying the rest of the contract would lead to savings, I must admit. Assuming we don't get sued, that is. If that's the basis of Governor Perry's faith in this program, well, I've underestimated the man.

The strongly worded letter was signed by four Texas Democratic congressmen and delivered late Wednesday to Perry, Hawkins and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Hawkins' spokeswoman said the commission planned to push ahead.

Strayhorn, a Republican running against Perry as an independent in November's gubernatorial election, applauded the congressmen "for getting involved in this Accenture mess."

"The governor implemented this plan in haste," Strayhorn said, terming the privatizing effort a "perfect story of wasted tax dollars, reduced access to services and profiteering at taxpayers' expense."

She has undertaken an audit and review of the Accenture contract and promised to provide answers to questions raised by state Democratic lawmakers who oppose privatization.

As you know, I'm no fan of Strayhorn, but that audit of Accenture is the sort of thing for which she was put on this Earth. I daresay she will leave no stone unturned.

Meanwhile, THHSC is also ganging up on Accenture.

A host of computer problems and poor training of contractor employees, resulting in misinformation to applicants and improperly filled out forms, has caused Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins to indefinitely postpone the [privatization rollout].

In addition, Hawkins has canceled the planned furlough of thousands of state workers and relieved the contractor of some of its duties.

It is not clear how much the state is considering penalizing Bermuda-based Accenture LLP, with which it signed a five-year, $889 million contract last summer.

It marks the first time the state has said publicly that its dissatisfaction with the contractor's performance may draw sanctions.


Anne Heiligenstein, deputy executive commissioner for social services, said the agency is reviewing options for recovering unexpected costs and delays in its Integrated Eligibility system, which determines who qualifies for food stamps and the Children's Health Insurance Program, among others.

But if the commission decides to impose financial sanctions, it could be months before a specific dollar figure is negotiated.


The rollout delay will likely negate some of the $646 million the commission told the Legislature it expected to save by outsourcing to the company.

That's assuming there ever was $646 million in savings to be had. I will not concede that point.

Meanwhile, you need to read this email to Anne Heiligenstein from Annie Landmann, the Chief Clerk of the House Committee on Human Services. I agree with HHSC Employee, it's an insult to the people who are still working there. There's more from HHSC Survivalist, who reprints a letter from the USDA to Albert Hawkins denying the state retroactive funding "from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for costs incurred by the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS)/Intergrated Eligibility and Enrollment Services (IEES) Project" because "the State chose to move forward without prior approval despite knowledge of the associated requirement and the risk of losing federal financial participation without prior approvals." And finally, Father John finds common ground with Molly Ivins.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 27, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack