September 23, 2007
Those damn call centers again

You might have noticed in that story about the lack of help being given to Hurricane Rita victims that a part of the problem was with getting private contractors geared up to distribute benefits. That's a phenomenon with which we're all sadly familiar around here.

Texas is still struggling with slow processing times for social service benefits and overburdened phone lines as it unwinds a failed privatization contract, health and human services officials said at a public hearing Friday.

They outlined plans for several smaller private contracts in the coming three years in the continued transition to call centers where people apply over the phone for a host of state and federal benefits.

But state employees criticized the plan, saying it would be better to hire more state workers for local offices where people apply for benefits in person.

"We're deeply concerned about plans to continue to contract out" work related to determining whether Texas families qualify for food and medical assistance, said Jerry Wald, a member of the Texas State Employees Union.


Sheila Badzioch, an HHSC caseworker in Houston, said her office lost a lot of experience when 27 of 40 workers left. The state has hired temporary workers and is converting many to full time, but Badzioch said she has worked many hours of overtime to keep up with her caseload of 990 clients.

The privatization effort was beset by complaints of delays in enrollment and problems getting applications processed.

Maximus, an Accenture subcontractor, temporarily took over the CHIP processing as the state re-balanced the roles between the state and the private sector to ensure that policy decisions were made by trained, experienced state employees.

The state plans to award a contract next May for CHIP processing and call center operations. Future contracts will be awarded for a document processing center, enrollment broker services and computer support.

More background on this is here. I'll say it again, this disastrous experiment will go down as one of the biggest fiascoes of Texas government. It's been a failure in every aspect, and it's left us worse off than we were before.

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