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TIERS of frustration

Father John points to a story about major problems with a new computer system used by Colorado to handle its food stamps, Medicaid, and other relief services:

[T]he explosion in hunger across the state is the direct result of problems with the state’s $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System, a nightmare computer-software program that has thrown food stamps, Medicaid, Old Age Pensions and other relief services into chaos since it was brought online Sept. 1.

Ed Kahn, attorney for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, said the state’s own statistics, as well as calls to the center from people seeking help, indicate the problems in processing aid applications have not eased.

“There were more applications overdue at the end of January than there were in December” when Denver District Court Judge John Coughlin gave the state until Feb. 28 to reduce the backlog by 40 percent, Kahn said.

Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, admitted as much. “We still have a considerable backlog,” she said.

And guess what? Texas is about to implement a new HHS system of its own, and Father John fears we could be in for what Colorado has experienced.

The old system does need to be replaced, because it is an old DOS based system that was created in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and has been increasingly hard to make work with contemporary computer systems that are available.

I’m going to pause here for a second to pick myself up off the floor. I am utterly flabbergasted at the thought of such programs still being in place five years after Y2K, even in a tightwad state like Texas. The IT professional in me is wailing, gnashing his teeth, and rending his garments.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is planning on implementing Call Centers to process most of the work done in conjunction with the Food Stamp, TANF, and Medicaid programs. The problem is they are pushing this through without having tested the premises that they have based their model on, and one of them is that the TIERS system is going to save time, and require fewer people (who will be paid less than the already low wages paid to the current staff). The reality is that this program is still flawed, and it takes longer to process a case action than the old system does. They also assume that they can cut about half of our agencies staff, and possibly privatize these call centers, and still get the same or better end resulst that the current system produces. There is no reason to believe that this will turn out to be the case.

TIERS stands for “Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System”. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s probably because there ain’t much that’s been written about it. This story about government IT consolidations nationally was the only result I got in Google News for “Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System”. A straight Google search got a bunch of Texas government web pages, this story about the overall HHS privatization/consolidation plan that resulted from 2003’s HB2292 (note that both of those stories are from about a year ago, when our old friend Gregg Phillips was still in charge) and three links that had negative things to say about HB2292 and TIERS:

From a Slashdot thread on an ill-fated FBI software project:

Sounds just like the TIERS Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System [state.tx.us] software my agency has been trying develop. The Texas Department of Human Services, now the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, has contracted to Deloitte to develop a web based system similar to what is described in the article. $3 million a month (according to some) has been spent on this for a couple of years now and it is a HORRIBLE excuse of a system. I know case workers that are being forced to test the software that say it takes at LEAST twice as long to work a case now than it did with the old system that was developed in the 80’s. This has been a boondoggle in the worst sense and any Texas taxpayer should be pissed off about it.

From a letter to the editor of the Texarkana Gazette:

Eligibility for services will be done by telephone and/or the Internet. How many Texans do not have computers, Internet access or even a telephone- or still don’t know how to use computers? A lot of our poor, disabled and elderly will fall through the cracks because they cannot utilize new technology. Children will lose Medicaid and will be taken to emergency rooms instead of a doctor’s office. When parents cannot pay the bill, hospitals will recoup their costs from those who do pay. When parents cannot feed and provide for their children, crime will increase. Our elderly will spend money they saved for medicine on food because they could not get certified for food stamps.

The justification behind this plan is a new computer system that was supposed to roll out statewide in 2003. It was piloted in a select area. Clients in that area went months without benefits. Some are still doing without! TIERS-Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System-is not working! What will happen when offices close and the system still doesn’t work?

From the Marshall News Messenger:

Deloitte Consulting has a contract to develop the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, Ms. Seals said.

Ms. Goodman said they do use consultants who have a specific task. Either they perform it or don’t get paid.

Ms. Seals said Arlene Wohlegemuth of Burleson, who sponsored HB 2292 to reorganize Health and Human Services, isn’t getting support for the bill from the people in her own county. Burleson lies in both Tarrant and Johnson counties.

“It’s so crazy. She’s not even doing what people in her county want (the bill) to do,” Ms. Seals said, noting nobody thought the bill would work this way.

Even Rep. Bryan Hughes said it’s not what he voted for.

Ms. Seals said 39 counties have passed resolutions to fight HB 2292 including a county represented by the bill’s author.

Ms. Seals asked to be put on the Harrison County commissioners May 25 agenda. She said Judge Wayne McWhorter has to approve it, but she hasn’t gotten a response. She said she just wants them to hear what she has to say because “something’s not right.”

“The county’s budget is $18 million. Now if something happens to us what are they (the county) going to do?” Ms. Seals said.

Ms. Goodman said HB 2292, directed the commission to look at call centers for eligibility services as a means of saving at least $389 million over the next five years. Because offices are as close as one mile apart, staffed once a week and they still pay rent, it’s time to help taxpayers.

But, Ms. Seals has questions about the savings.

“We’re not sure how much it’ll save. We’ve never seen figures,” Ms. Seals said. She noted the only savings they see from their point of view are employees out of a job while consultant companies are making millions.

Plus, the approximate $389 million savings is over a five-year period, “not off the top,” Ms. Seals noted.

“They’re not showing us this is the bottom line,” she added, noting she supervises in Cass County as well and cuts will affect the staff she works with in eligibility and functional assessment.

“Everything they (commission) say is always positive and never reality,” she said.

Ms. Seals said the starting costs of the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) system alone was $160 million and it still doesn’t work.

Ms. Seals said she sent two employees to Austin for training on the system in the last two months and they reported there’s many errors with the system.

“They spent $160 million on the contract and issued $400,000 worth of benefits. They didn’t say half of them were in error and how many people it took to fix the mistakes,” Ms. Seals said.

In an e-mail, Ms. Goodman said the TIERS application is working.

This is the extent of my knowledge of TIERS, so make of it what you will. Maybe it’s time an investigative journalist looked into it, because it sure sounds like there’s a story in there to me.

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7 Comments

  1. Diane says:

    State level IT is pathetic. (CA, here, but it’s no different.)

    I believe that the systemic inability of government to deploy functional computer systems will eventually threaten democracy. Dead serious about this.

    The two main problems are impossibly cumbersome and lengthy procurement processes and the short term vision of the powers that be. If they can save a billion this year by not investing in a good system, they will continue to band-aid the obsolete existing one.

  2. Mathwiz says:

    I am utterly flabbergasted at the thought of [DOS] programs still being in place five years after Y2K, even in a tightwad state like Texas.

    Assuming DOS refers to MS-DOS (and not the original O.S. for IBM mainframes), there is no reason why Y2K would have posed enough of a barrier to make it more cost-effective to redesign and rewrite an entire system of applications for a newer O.S. Not to mention that Windows might not have seemed a very attractive alternative, particularly in the late 90’s when the most popular version, Windows 98, was still a (rather unreliable) GUI add-on to DOS. The time which would have been required was probably at least as much of a factor as money in the decision to stick with older software.

    For the same reasons, the vast majority of pre-Y2K applications were upgraded to deal with the new century, rather than taking the opportunity to rewrite and “modernize” them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  3. DOS does refer to an IBM Mainframe System, in this case.

  4. Cathy says:

    Call centers: Accenture (private employee base) will collect the data and enter into the TIERS system. A feature in TIERS exists that could prevent a non-state employee from certifying a case – request of 2nd level review. This leads one to believe that a state employee will actually push the button to certify, or order benefits. In reality, this is what we currently call “case-reading” for accuracy. With a huge cut planned in state employee staffing, this will be a huge workload. Review of the case, in TIERS, can take a good amount of time.
    Benefit Issuance Center (previously known as the local field offices): Cutting approximately 100 offices statewide. The reduced number of state employees who will be “reading-reviewing” the cases, as previously mentioned, will also be handling the increased lobby traffic at the local offices that will remain. Keep in mind that this new system will not deny face-to-face interview or client attention at the field office – which is good for the client. However, if an office is currently dealing with standing room only situations in their lobbies, what do we anticipate when there are fewer lobbies?
    In the meanwhile: Staff who realize their short tenure with the state will probably not secure them ongoing employment -and- those with a high number of service years, who now see they do not live within a reasonable distance to a field office that will remain (especially rural areas), are going to be finding employment elsewhere. The current environment of working understaffed can reasonably expect to become much, much worse. Of those who hang on to the job with continued hope of reaching retirement, absenteeism due to stress increases. There again, those who show up to work carry an impossible workload – taking longer to complete case actions.
    Transition to the marriage of call center data collection, TIERS computer system, and what remains of employees: Start date has been pushed back, but the expected completion date of phasing in of the state remained the same – about 9 months from start to end. Appears to be a rather agressive plan with no room to properly work out the bugs. The new computer system, itself, involves a very steep learning curve. One can only assume that we have not moved forward until now because use of the TIERS system (learning it and repairing it) has been problematic. Many will tell you that the majority of the problems in the last year have been worker error, which lends credence that it is difficult to master the use of the system. Based on difficulty in use of the system alone and in consideration of adding Texas regions to the mix about a month apart, why would one think that all of the other regions of Texas have staff who can master this system in 9 months or less?

  5. noname says:

    TIERS is in useless system. I have been working on this project from last 4 years and find it all the patch up works going on by the Deloitte. Good that Aceenture has this project and they implement all the better system. These Deloitte people should be banned for ever from implementing any welfare system.

  6. We have the same kind of problem in California. To read about it, go to http://briefcase.yahoo.com/mrappeal and look in the Daily Recorder folder for the series How Not To Buy Software and the followup series (now in progress and being published currently in the Daily Recorder) Public Officials & Taxpayer Dollars. Same players. EDS, Deloitte. Our disaster is just bigger – about $800 Million so far.

  7. TexasDaddy says:

    Strayhorn Releases Report on Accenture Contract

    Sent to the heads of the Texas House and Senate today from the Comptroler’s office.

    http://www.window.state.tx.us/comptrol/letters/accenture/

    Maybe the money bleed here might stop.