July 27, 2007
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to hire Accenture again

Back in June, I noted that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) was gearing up to hire a replacement for Accenture to do basically what Accenture had been doing so well before we terminated their contract. Judging from this Texas State Employees' Union release, one has to wonder if we've really learned anything from our prior experience.

The Health and Human Services Commission in May issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from vendors about how to resurrect its failed attempt to provide health and human services through call centers. In June, HHSC held a vendor conference to provide more information about the RFI and its call center plans.

HHSC's presentation at the vendor conference made it clear that it has learned little from its disastrous experiment last year to create a privately operated call center-based health and human services eligibility system. In January 2006 HHSC and its contractor Accenture implemented a call center-based eligibility system in Travis and Hays counties.

People applying for food stamps, Medicaid, and public assistance in the Travis and Hays service area were required to do so through the so-called "modernized" call center-based eligibility system. But call centers made access to services more difficult.


[T]hree months into the experiment HHSC pulled the plug, returned most of the eligibility work being done by Accenture and its subcontractors back to state employees, and postponed further rollout of the call center-based eligibility system.

At the time, HHSC indicated that Accenture needed to work out some technical problems and provide better training to its call center staff. HHSC indicated that when Accenture fixed these problems rollout of the call center eligibility system would resume.

But Accenture never fixed the problems, and there is every reason to believe that the problems are not fixable.

HHSC in March 2007 canceled the Accenture contract, but it appears that HHSC has learned little from last year's experiment. At the vendor conference, an HHSC spokesperson told the gathering that "the [call center] concept is sound."

HHSC assertion that the call center concept "is sound" is based on a number of faulty assumptions including the following:

  • Call centers will modernize and improve service delivery

  • Call centers will be more convenient for customers

  • Customers are clamoring for call centers

  • New (Old) business processes will improve access to service

  • Applying for health and human services is easy and most of the initial work can be done by unskilled, low paid data entry clerks

  • A new contractor can make call centers work

The release goes on to challenge all of these assumptions. It's good reading, and well worth keeping in mind as we re-fight this battle. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 27, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo