April 23, 2007
HHSC response to OIG report

I received a copy in the mail of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's official response to the Office of the Inspector General's report about the abject failure of the TIERS software system. It's uploaded here (PDF) for those who want to read it. I also have a response to this response from an actual HHSC employee, who sent me the following to go along with the HHSC statement:

Here's the thing that struck me:

On page 2 the first bullet - where it says SAVERR collects less data and there could be two separate households - that's just not true. TIERS can't prevent that, either. If a wife goes to Austin and applies, and the husband could go to another city with a different address and get certified separately - TIERS can't stop that either. However, if one tries to do two separate cases for THEMSELVES saverr wouldn't process that at all. SSN and DOB is what links up.

2nd bullet says that it takes far less time to complete recertifications which is also a lie. A worker can do a recert on SAVERR in 15 minutes or so. You can't even process a "No-Show" on TIERS in that length of time. I know of workers in this office I'm in that are on TIERS and they HATE IT. DESPISE IT. It takes FAR too long, far too many 'entries' to do a simple case action.

In a word, TIERS does not work. Instead of say, 15 screens in SAVERR, the same case might have 40 or so in TIERS.

TIERS can and does issue benefits wrong. There is no way to "check" the case before it processes in TIERS as you can in SAVERR.

I wish the letters to the editor of the Texas Observer were online, because the current issue contains a letter from Father John Whiteford, who once was an HHSC employee before moving on to another post within the state government when HHSC was purging all of its knowledgeable and experienced employees in order to make room for Accenture. Father John pointed out in response to this article that while HHSC says it's busy trying to bring those old hands back to work to clean up after Accenture, they are currently only posting entry-level positions, which needless to say isn't going to be attractive to anyone with real service time. The risk of outsourcing to Accenture wasn't just the money, and it wasn't just the real harm that was done to the truly needy recipients of state and federal aid who got screwed by Accenture's failures. It was also the loss of all the human capital that HHSC had, when they were forced out as part of the takeover. Even if HHSC could post every job that was cut at a salary equal to or higher than what it was at that time, they'd never be able to get all those people back, as some of them will have moved on to new jobs and new locations that they won't want to relinquish. It will take many years, as Father John noted, for them just to get back to where they were before, and at every step along the way they'll operate less efficiently than they would have had they not taken the failed path of privatization. There's no way that this risk was properly accounted for before the go/no go decision was made, and that just makes the whole debacle that much worse.

UPDATE: Forgot to point to the CPPP Statement on Tiers/IE System Recommendations, which includes a copy of the recommendations from the House subcommittee (PDF) on what to do with TIERS and the call centers. Note that as the Observer reports, there was some unsubtle pressure exerted on the subcommittee by Governor Perry's office to tone down the criticism of HHSC Commissioner Albert Hawkins, whom Perry wants to reappoint. Why anyone would want to give another term to the man responsible for this disaster is frankly beyond me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 23, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo