Saturday, August 26, 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

Computer System Audit

Audit Reveals Security Gaps - But No Breaches - in Public Assistance Computer System
Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American-Statesman
Personal information about Texans who receive public assistance could be at risk of being accessed by computer hackers, according to a new internal audit of the Health and Human Services Commission.
The audit, conducted for the agency by Clifton Gunderson LLP, identified several vulnerable areas of the computer backbone of the state's new system for determining eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid and other programs.
However, the study did not uncover any security breaches.
The computer system, TIERS, and the new call centers handling public assistance enrollment have been targets of criticism recently. A private group, the Texas Access Alliance, anchored by Accenture LLP, is administering the computer system and call centers.
The state has halted statewide rollout of the new enrollment system until problems with a Central Texas pilot program can be fixed.
Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said the computer system works well and is an improvement over the old one.
*Wait, what?  It works well?  TIERS?  Actually, it does not work well, and you can ask any worker across the STATE that deals with TIERS and they will tell you the same thing.  Maybe it's an improvement over the old system once it IS working, but that's not the case yet.  It may never be.  I guess that's why local staff who work in the TIERS system are told to not 'bad mouth' TIERS to other staff across the Regions who aren't in TIERS yet.....but we all know the truth, don't we?
"What you want to do with an internal audit is test every possible way the system could conceivably fail," she said. "That doesn't mean it has failed. All tests like this reveal some weaknesses somewhere."
The audit found:
• The agency does not have a plan for monitoring computer system performance and security.
• The Texas Access Alliance does not ensure that all employees have background checks, increasing the risk that people with criminal backgrounds could access sensitive information.
*Sensitive information that includes people's name, dates of birth, social security numbers, bank account information, job information, living arrangements, etc.
• Computer user accounts are not always removed when employees change jobs or stop working for the agency or its contractor.
• Fraud prevention and detection controls for the system are not fully implemented.
"The audit shows that after costing $300 million and after three years in pilot, TIERS still isn't ready for prime time," said Will Rogers, a spokesman for the 12,000-member Texas State Employees Union, which has opposed the new public assistance enrollment system.

Get your own web address for just $1.99/1st yr. We'll help. Yahoo! Small Business.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

So I suppose this means the State Employees really ARE good at what they do?

Need Help Applying for Public Benefits? Find Answers Saturday in Austin
Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American-Statesman
For Central Texans who have had trouble enrolling in public assistance recently, here's a message from local officials: Try again.
On Saturday, anyone who needs help applying for Medicaid, food stamps, the Children's Health Insurance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families can come to the Austin Convention Center for help. State workers will be on hand to help with applications and answer questions.
The event is sponsored by the local legislative delegation, Mayor Will Wynn and the Austin City Council and nonprofit organizations. It is a response to problems some residents of Hays and Travis counties have had since the state turned over public assistance enrollment for those counties to a private contractor in January.
State officials have halted statewide rollout of the new system until problems with the Central Texas pilot can be resolved.
The problems include eligible Texans being denied services and talking to call center representatives who could not answer their questions.
"To the people who need those services, these glitches are measured in pain and illness untreated by a doctor," state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said.
Organizers recommend that participants in Saturday's event bring documents to facilitate enrollment, such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and proof of income and residence. For help determining what documents to bring, call insure-a-kid at 324-2447.

Get your email and more, right on the new

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Little Sunday Reading.....

You can listen to an interview that Albert Hawkins did with Texas Public Policy Foundation ... if you can stomach it. Click HERE.

I hate to give DabJab any traffic- but you have to read this article and the comments that are there as well.......HERE is where you'll go for that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What it is becoming out there....

As has been mentioned time and time again in the comments and on this blog- the media has no idea what is really going on. Used to, the articles pointed to the long hold times that people had when they called the the articles all point out the long wait times at local offices WITHOUT mentioning that the reason the local offices are in such disarray is because we are severly SEVERLY short staffed.

We have offices working under 50% staffing. We have offices around the state with NO clerical support- workers are having to bear this. We have offices where there isn't anyone available to do the most mundane tasks- opening and distributing mail (for example)...and yet, it's almost as though the intent is to make the "State Employees" be the bad guys. Afterall, aren't we- the "state employees" the ones who are against Accenture/TAA just because we are "disgruntled" and angry we are losing our jobs? So what better way to "show" everyone why we need a "new system" than to have the local offices tank, little by little, and become inefficient and unable to handle the workload.

Is that what all this is?

Do you want to guest blog? Email me what you would like posted...and I'll post it. It's all anonymous, but if you want to put where you are- what area- that's fine.

Hang in there guys.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Worker tells of training problems with state contractor

Accenture group failed to give her knowledge she needed
By Corrie MacLaggan
Friday, August 11, 2006

When Amanda Morris started working at a private office that enrolls Texans in public assistance, she was trained to enter information into a computer about people who want to apply for benefits.

But she immediately found that most cases didn't involve signups. Clients needed to renew benefits, make changes to their accounts or update their address.

Thao Nguyen

Problems at the Texas Access Alliance may have affected public assistance recipients such as Diana Acosta, an Austin mother of two. Acosta, 43, who is on disability and does not have a job, said she received her food stamps two weeks late one month and her children were not enrolled in Medicaid for three months because TAA representatives said they did not have paperwork she had sent repeatedly.

And she didn't know how to do that.

"I trained for three weeks and was put onto the floor with about 2 percent knowledge of how to do my job," said Morris, 21, who works for a temp agency and has been on assignment since March with the San Antonio office of state contractor Texas Access Alliance.

Problems with worker training are one of the reasons the state has indefinitely delayed statewide rollout of that contractor's new call-in system to enroll Texans in food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Morris' account sheds more light on the problems. A former Texas Access Alliance employee in San Antonio, who asked that her name not be used because it might affect her current job, said Morris' story matches her experience.

The state is paying more than $800 million over five years to the Texas Access Alliance, a consortium of private companies led by Accenture LLP, for the system, which has been in a pilot stage in Travis and Hays counties since January. The privatization was intended to save the state money.

Since the contractor took over, benefits recipients have reported getting inexplicably dropped from public assistance, talking to customer service representatives who couldn't answer their questions and being asked for information they'd already provided.

In response, the private group has retrained its call center employees and overhauled training for new hires, spokeswoman Mindy Brown said this week. Texas Access Alliance "has turned a major corner," she said.

"Our training is intensive and depends on each employee's role," Brown said. "If an employee feels they need additional training to do their job correctly, all they need to do is to speak with their supervisor and additional instruction can be arranged."

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the reports of improved quality is a positive sign but that the state has not yet evaluated that. "We'll measure the success of the training by how well the call-center representatives respond to client questions and concerns," she said.

Morris, for one, said training sessions she's attended recently were just as ineffective as the original.

She admits she's bitter about her job: her boyfriend was one of several dozen people laid off from the San Antonio office earlier this summer, and she wishes she earned more than her $12-per-hour salary. But she says that as a former recipient of food stamps and Medicaid, she's concerned about the experiences of the 3 million Texans who receive public assistance.

"You have no idea how (messed) up this is getting," said Morris, who works with applications and renewals but does not take calls. "There's misorganization regarding documents. Information gets linked incorrectly or lost altogether."

For example, Morris said she recently found that a public assistance recipient had submitted an address change. But an employee flagged the file to indicate a change of state residency, instead. And another employee who handled the case didn't catch the error. So the family was sent a letter asking about their Texas residency, Morris said.

Morris attributes problems like this to a lack of training and co-workers who are "purposely lazy." In May, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins announced that no new applications will be processed in the privately run San Antonio call center until the contractor improves.

Alton Martin, CEO of Customer Operations Performance Center, Inc., a New York-based call-center consultant, said the training problems aren't surprising.

When he asks call-center representatives at various sites whether they felt ready for their job, "about half the time they'll say training was really bad or nonexistent or not appropriate to the task."

Martin, whose company is not working with the Texas contract but has worked with Accenture on other projects, said that call center quality issues often stem from the contract.

"Maybe the state wasn't rigorous enough," said Martin, who works in Austin. "Lots of times people want to throw the vendor under the bus . . . (But) if you want a fast car, ask for a fast car."

Goodman, though, said the state has set a high bar and is doing its own quality checks.

The private call centers — located in San Antonio, Austin, Midland and Athens — are expected to replace some state offices where Texans sign up for public assistance. The new system gives Texans more ways to apply for public assistance — mail, fax, Internet and phone — as well as in person.

Mary Katherine Stout of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates for limited government, said those who argue for the state to resume public assistance enrollment overlook problems with the outdated state system.

She recently visited a state benefits office in Fort Worth and found that despite having appointments, Texans were waiting hours. One public assistance recipient told Stout she has a rule of thumb for visiting the state office: pack a lunch.; 445-3548.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Opinion: Modernizing Texas Social Services

State Rep. Suzanna Hupp
Special to the Austin American-Statesman
Want to take a trip back to the 1970s? Try visiting your local Food Stamps office. You'll find row after row of filing cabinets, computer screens with flashing neon green cursors and an occasional typewriter.
What office still has the computers with flashing neon green cursors?  I'm sorry, but I believe I have a new Dell computer (well, 3-4 years old)......could she be talking about the old Packard Bells?  I think those screens were orange.  And typewriters?  That's going back to the 70's?  I know that our office has ONE typewriter in the office that rarely, if ever, gets used.  BUT, it's there in case we need it for anything.  OH!  And if I'm not mistaken- I believe that cases were actually done on PAPER in the 70's.   I wasn't clear that DHS was so "Advanced" in the 70's that we were the ONLY agency with computers.....
It's definitely time for an upgrade.
Yes it is- and let's not act like IT didn't know that SAVERR (the ancient system that "seems to be able to get things done") COULD be converted to a web based program and upgraded.
Recently, in a letter to Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins, a number of my colleagues in the Texas Legislature and I reaffirmed our support for modernizing the eligibility system for programs such as Medicaid and Food Stamps. The massive overhaul of an antiquated system has not been easy. But it is necessary.
For years there has been an outcry for change to the system. Taxpayer dollars were being exhausted by a very labor-intensive system that cannot keep up with rising caseloads.
The new system will modernize the state's computer systems and business processes. It also will allow Texans to choose how they want to apply for services — in person, by phone (FNS still requires a signature to process an application for food stamps, so applying over the phone does nothing more than delay when their case gets started), over the Internet or by fax. These new options are being piloted in four offices in Travis and Hays counties. Although not off to an ideal start, these changes ultimately will make it easier for people to apply for services.
During a recent public hearing, a witness explained to lawmakers that she had to drive 30 minutes to a state office to simply pick up a children's Medicaid application (we would have mailed her one, all she has to do is call). This meant hiring someone to watch after her elderly mother and taking her 33-year-old autistic daughter and 10-year-old grandson with her to the office. When she arrived to the "extremely hot and overcrowded" office, she took number 99, only to discover they were on number 30. (the office is overcrowded now that most of the tenured staff has left after getting a layoff notice, and the people left are doing all they can to keep their heads above water) Because of her autistic daughter's reaction to strange environments, she finally had no other option but to leave the enrollment office, no better off than when she had arrived.
We must make it easier for Texans to apply for the services they need. (Had she gotten her application by mail, and then sent it back, the Children's Medicaid would have been done WITHOUT an interview even being required and her not having to come to the office again.)
In 2005, a statewide poll of Texas benefit recipients found that clients wanted more options, including the ability to apply by phone or Internet from the privacy of their own homes, when applying for benefits.  (Again, the clients that are now in the TIERS program - the one that DOESN'T work - are wishing we'd go BACK to the 'old' way, so that they could actually get their benefits...but I digress.)
In the new system, Texans still will be able to apply in person at one of more than 200 offices across the state in addition to the new methods. The system also uses technology and streamlined business processes to reduce costs.
All incoming and outgoing correspondence is scanned and saved to create an electronic case file that can be accessed from any state benefits office. That means that clients who move won't have to wait for their case files to catch up with them.
The modernization of the Texas social service system has drawn fire, some of which has been justified by issues discovered in the pilot phase. The state has been working closely with the contractor, the Texas Access Alliance, to address those problem areas before expanding the pilot to other regions.
But Texans should not forget where we came from — a system that caused frustration for the clients who depended on it and the state workers who administered it (State workers that administered it?  What is that supposed to mean?  That we were part of the problem?  Wow- to think all that hard work, and all that enhanced funding that the "state workers" worked so hard for- enhanced funding money that went straight to the GENERAL FUND...yes, let's not forget where we came from). We have made considerable progress in this worthwhile endeavor, and we are on track to provide Texas with a better social services eligibility system.
(If you would like to email Ms. Hupp and give her your thoughts on this article, click below and it will go straight to her page..........leave a comment if you do contact her.....)

Get your email and more, right on the new