Monday, July 17, 2006

Opinion: Don't Throw Good Social Services Money After Bad

Staff Editorial
Lufkin Daily News
There was plenty of skepticism beforehand as to whether privately owned call centers could effectively handle the state's public assistance enrollment program.
So far, the performance of Texas Access Alliance – the group of companies awarded an $899 million, five-year contract to handle benefit enrollment – has done nothing to inspire confidence that the plan will work.
In fact, there has been no "performance" to judge, because the program has not yet been instituted. Problems with technology, personnel and training caused the state to delay the rollout of the program that would turn over the enrollment process for those seeking food stamps, Medicaid and welfare. They also delayed the layoff of at least 1,000 state employees due to the inability of TAA to get the program up and running.
A group of 60 legislators, among them Democratic state Rep. Jim McReynolds of Lufkin, have written a letter asking the state to cancel the program, according to a Wednesday story by Cox News Service.
McReynolds is one of 48 Democrats and 12 Republicans asking Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins to cancel the contract due to the inability of Accenture, the "anchor" of the TAA program, to get the program up and running.
Hawkins had already halted the statewide expansion of the new eligibility system "until concerns can be resolved," but the group of legislators is now recommending the contract be canceled. They appear to be of the opinion that it's better to cut the state's losses now, at $103 million, than to continue with a company that has been so far unable to produce on a single "deliverable."
A group of 30 legislators, all Republican, has written a letter in support of the contract, although they did approve of Hawkins' decision to delay the expansion.
We agree with McReynolds' group. Accenture has been given plenty of time, and money, to produce something other than excuses. They have not.
We've already said that we disagreed with the state's plan to turn over the system to call centers. If there are to be any savings, and that's yet to be proven, we don't believe it would be enough to justify the loss to those who depend on the system.
However, if the decision has been made to go to such a system, then they should at least be assured of some degree of success.
The present contractor hasn't been able to deliver that assurance.
We shouldn't throw $796 million in good money after bad.

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