Saturday, December 22, 2007


See these:
Grits for Breakfast Blog Posting- talks about Gregg Phillips and Wohlgemuth .... a comment on there said to try this search in Google to see what comes up- so here ya go:
Google Search for Phillips and Wohlgemuth...HERE are the results.  Interesting.

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Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to send out a Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to all my fellow HHSC Employees.  What you do is important, and we are all doing the best we can under the circumstances.  Here's to hoping that the time off over the Holidays will refresh each and every one of you and here's to hoping 2008 sees some changes in our Agency for the better and overall changes for Texas. 

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Good Comment

Saw this in comments and thought it deserved to be on the page so no one missed it:
Demand on food banks reflects lack of adequate benefits through "safety net" programs
The news has been filled with stories of food pantries and soup kitchens that are struggling to meet the growing problem of hunger. These groups are frequently staffed with volunteers and depend on donations. They deserve our gratitude. The growing demand on food banks reflects the failure of our elected officials to provide adequate benefits through “safety net” programs. What happened to the safety net of Food Stamps, Supplemental Social Security Income and TANF cash assistance? These programs were intended to meet the basic needs of low income citizens. It is extremely distressing to see that the official government policy for feeding hungry people is to rely on the charity of food pantries and soup kitchens.

Forty years ago the Food Stamp program was established to end hunger in America. Yet, it was only designed to provide 75% of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined necessary to meet minimum nutritional needs. Poor families were expected to make up the rest with cash. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible for those who must rely on SSI or TANF. The payment levels for these programs are very low. It is difficult for these people to find extra cash to buy food when they spend every dime available for rent, utilities, and other essentials. As a result our food pantries must deal with constant demands from people who are already receiving help from the safety net.

This is unconscionable. This is not the Depression. People need to be able to get their food from the grocery store and should not have to wait in lines to get a meal or box of food. We cannot continue to rely on the kindness of volunteers and donations to meet a responsibility that we all have towards our less fortunate neighbors. We must insist that our government officials ensure that our safety net does its job.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

TSEU News Bulletin from 11/8/07

The Texas State Auditor's Office released its report on TIERS in October.  The investigation was ordered by the Texas Legislature during the last session.
* TIERS can correctly determine eligibility and calculate benefits, but only when users have access to "other processes" that are NOT identified in the report.
* As of JUNE 2007, HHSC had spent at least $351.7 MILLION on TIERS, which is 61% of the TOTAL projected budget through 2010, and correcting the problems would cause many millions of dollars.
* Fundamental design flaws, described as "Poor architectural design and chronic problems," make TIERS slow, ineffecient, and overly complex.  Inefficient use of data storage and processing capacity will require massive system expansion.
* TIERS could not handle statewide rollout without correction of flaws and massive expansion.
Among the Details:
Eligibility staff could encounter more than 250 screens (of the total 1059 screens in the system) in working a SINGLE case.
TIERS was not designed as a relational database system, a basic design flaw that makes the system inefficient, increases requirements for data storage, and makes data integrity questionable.
FOR further information, please go to  I'd encourage any state employee out there to join the union. 

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Texans waiting for food stamps, other programs"

Texans waiting for food stamps, other programs
Corrie MacLaggan
Austin American Statesman
Applications for food stamps and other programs are backlogged across Texas because there aren't enough state workers trained to process cases in the TIERS computer system, state officials acknowledged Tuesday.
The percentage of food stamp applications processed on time in October was the lowest since January. Texas continues to add cases to the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System despite a recent warning from the state auditor that the software is not ready for use beyond a Central Texas pilot region.
Yes, and they are going to continue adding until a "rollout" regardless of what the state auditors says becomes necessary once ALL cases end up in TIERS.
The delays are worst in Central Texas . For example, of the 25,417 Austin-area food stamp applications handled in October, a third of them did not get processed within the 30 days required by the federal government. Statewide, 14.1 percent of food stamp applications were processed late in October, the most recent month for which statistics are available.
The sad thing about this is in Austin, word is the workers are having to see anywhere from 20 to 30 appointments PER DAY.  With the policy and complexity of the dynamics of various families- this all but guarantees that the cases aren't being looked at like we would back when 10 per day was considered too many.  When you are seeing that many each day, there is no time left "in between" appointments to complete other cases where information has been provided after the interview.  This also causes workers to have to work late, work weekends, come in early- each and every day just to stay somewhat on top of their game.  The lost voices in this ARE the workers, given that no one seems to realize that while we are employees of the state of texas, we are ALSO mothers, fathers, caregivers, etc at home.  By the time some workers GET home, it's late and time to go to bed to get up early and do it again.  This is the reason staffing is the way it is.  You cannot expect a worker (especially in a major city like Austin,TX) to stay in this mess rather than go somewhere else.  It is wrong when it comes to the clients that are having to wait, and it's wrong when it comes to the workers who are breaking their backs trying to do the best job they can do.
"There is very clearly a TIERS workload issue," said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission. "We're trying to staff up. We do think that with additional staff ... we'll get through this hump."
It seems as though for every extra worker that gets hired, 2 have left.  The starting pay for caseworkers is not enough or does not match the level of work they have to do.  Yes, they are being paid overtime- but this is not a guarantee that it will always be that way.  Historically, the State NEVER paid overtime, but rather would convert any hours worked over 40 in a week into time and half VACATION/COMP time.  I can assure anyone out there who questiosn this that many of the workers suffering through this right now would not be if they were to end the paying of overtime. 
She couldn't say exactly how many people are waiting. The backlogs, she said, are due in part to the addition of statewide cases from a new women's health program. State Auditor John Keel warned last month that TIERS is cumbersome.
"Every day, more and more cases are being put into TIERS ... without an infrastructure to deal with those cases," said Katie Romich of the Texas State Employees Union. "Workers are frustrated."
Rumor has it that ART staff across the state that are having to interview those clients NOT in pilot areas but who ARE in the TIERS system are seeing clients 40-60 days after the client applied.  Mind you, as has been said on this blog before and is mentioned in this article, Food Stamp FEDERAL POLICY is very clear- a client MUST be certified or denied no later than 30 days from the date they filed their application.  Obviously, this is not happening.
About 3.7 million Texans are enrolled in food stamps, Medicaid (a federal-state health insurance program) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. All the programs are affected by the delays.
Demetria Johnson, an Austin mother of two, said she tried to renew food stamps in June. She's still waiting.
"I do get paid weekly, but it's still hard for me to buy groceries," said Johnson, 28, who said she earns $9 an hour at a department store. "I fall off on the other bills."
Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said, "It's really not acceptable to tell someone they have to wait for months to put food on the table."
TIERS, envisioned by the Legislature in 1999, is a Web-based system meant to modernize the state's 1970s-era enrollment software.
"TIERS does so much more than the current system does," Goodman said. "Not to mention, it's technology we can actually support going into the future."
In January, the state debuted the Texas Women's Health Program, which provides gynecological exams and birth control to 70,000 low-income women. State workers have used TIERS to process the case of any woman who applies for that program — and anyone in her household who seeks food stamps, Medicaid or temporary family assistance.
"The thing that has been somewhat of a surprise is how many of those women and their families have applied for other services," Goodman said.
Surprised?  No, the surprise came to them when they realized that by applying for that program it threw ALL their cases in TIERS.  I cannot tell you how many clients have asked local office staff that are not housed in the pilot area to please switch them BACK to the old system, and please get their cases OUT of TIERS.  These women aren't people who have never been on benefits who suddenly get on WHP and then start applying for everything we offer.  No.  Many clients are very frustrated in their dealings with 2-1-1 and will continue to be as long as the 'status quo' remains.
Adding 50,000 foster care cases to TIERS this year had an impact, Goodman said.
And what exactly was the justification in adding all those cases?  Pilot area is struggling to keep up, so what better way to fix that?  Oh, let's add about 50,000 more cases to TIERS.  So now if a child has been in foster care goes home and has to be added to their families case, it now throws all of THOSE cases into TIERS. 
The Children's Health Insurance Program, which serves 341,000, is scheduled to be added to TIERS next year.
Any idea how many clients we have who receive Food Stamps and also CHIP?  This will throw their FOOD STAMP case into TIERS as well.  Local office staff OUTSIDE of the pilot area are not equipped to deal with the large numbers of TIERS clients that this will create.  Since the Feds have told them to not rollout- this is the State's way of doing it anyway.  Instead of a controlled rollout by county, this will just add thousands of cases "undercover". 
"Until we have eliminated every bug in TIERS," said state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, "we don't need to be integrating anything into it."
Unfortunately, they are going to increase the TIERS clients.  And the local offices will, in turn, begin losing people again.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

This was in comments.....I've colored "extra comments" by the comment leaver in red.

Even though the State is sending every person they can to TIERS training now that it has opened up again, and even though they have alsomst 500,000 folks back doored into their system even though the feds said no more roll out, the new system IS NOT guaranteed. This was from the Houston Chronicle the other day. My comments have been inserted:
Auditor: Pricey state computer system flawed
Agency defends health, welfare unit as reliable
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — A computer system, which has cost Texas taxpayers more than $350 million over the past eight years, remains plagued with problems and isn't ready to handle statewide processing of health and welfare benefits, the state auditor's office said Thursday.
(We that are there already knew this)
The Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS, was established by the Legislature in 1999 to improve access to benefits and services.
It now serves 430,000 welfare, food stamps and Medicaid clients each month, mostly in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties in Central Texas.
(The numbers were bolstered by the Womens Health Program, Foster Care kids and Old cases from all over the state being transferred to the TIERS system, without federal approval)
Auditors didn't find any significant errors in how eligibility was determined and benefits were calculated in the cases they studied.
(Significant? What determines a significant error?)
But, they concluded, the Health and Human Services Commission "will need significant additional processing capacity and storage to support a statewide rollout of TIERS," including the addition of the Children's Health Insurance Program, scheduled for March.
(And rumor has it that SSI cases handled through state office are being switched to TIERS starting in Jnurary)
CHIP will add about 325,000 active and 650,000 inactive clients to the system, the report said.
(Why are they adding inactive clients?)
It also criticized a "poor architectural design" that made the computer system cumbersome to use and hindered TIERS' ability to process and maintain the integrity of data. It also said DHS should consider streamlining its application process for public assistance, including the adoption of a shorter application form.
(Wouldn't this cause "significant" errors?)- HHSC Employee's note:  No, the longer application is so cumbersome and confusing, that clients who use it leave off important information all the time.  A shorter app (like the one we had- what, 4 pages?) that captured the most important information:  Who is in the household, where they live, what income they have, and what their expenses are- would be MUCH better.  A good worker doesn't need an application asking what the last grade completed in school was, what elementary school their kids go to, etc.  A good worker out there will ask those questions anyway.
DHS officials said they stood by the system and were happy with the audit's finding that, in the cases studied, TIERS had accurately processed welfare, Medicaid and food stamp claims.
They said some problems cited in the report already were being addressed.
Auditors said they tested a sample of 60 TIERS clients who received benefits between July 20 and Aug. 17.
They also reviewed client samples initially tested by DHS and KPMG, a private audit firm.
"We're pleased that the state auditor confirmed that TIERS works," said Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins.
(Apparently Al didn't read the first paragraph in the story.)
"The audit also reaffirmed a decision we made in 2004 to change the TIERS database design. We've completed that redesign, and we're continuing to implement other improvements recommended by the state auditor and our technology team."
(As per a TSEU broadcast "...As of September 20, 2007, there were 1373 outstanding "service requests," which are documented requests for changes in the system to ensure its accuracy or functionality. Only 155 of these have been analyzed, and it will cost approximately $27 million and take over 200,000 hours to correct them.
42 versions of TIERS have been released since January, but HHSC is not independently testing the functionality of the system. Instead, HHSC is depending  the contractor's reported testing results."
That is a whole lot of changes in two months, not real reaffirming.)
Hawkins said TIERS will be an important part of the state's transition to a new system that will allow Texans to apply for services in person, over the phone or Internet or by mail. He said TIERS can be adapted to meet those changes.
(I thought TIERS was the new system?)
The transition, so far, has been rocky. Earlier this year, the state canceled a contract with Texas Access Alliance, a group of contractors headed by Accenture, which had been hired in 2005 to operate call centers and process applications for CHIP.
The cancellation was prompted by backlogs and errors in processing applications.
(I personally know workers that are interviewing clients whose applications are past the 30 day time frame for foodstamp benefits. The case is considered to be delinquent before the client is even interviewed.)
HHSCEmployee:  Not only are the cases that are interviewed in TIERS more than 30 days old, in some cases they are 40-60 DAYS OLD.
According to the new audit, the TIERS application/database was down for more than 27 business hours in July during the contract transition period. DHS said the down time was unusual and had been reduced to only 19 minutes in September.
(19 minutes on what day?)
The auditor estimated that TIERS will need at least 230 additional computer processors and an unknown amount of additional storage for a statewide rollout of the system.
(Let's guess, a processor costs, say, 2000.00. You do the math.)
DHS spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said more than $2 million already has been budgeted for additional hardware. She said the addition of CHIP to the system will represent a major step in taking the system statewide.
(A major addition to the numbers race.)
But she said she didn't know when the process will be completed because federal approval will be required for some programs.
(Has this stopped them before?)
She said TIERS already serves about 12 percent of the state's health and human services caseload.
(What percent of of those are actually in the rollout areas?)
"It already has more cases than many other states have total," she said.
According to the audit, DHS' Office of Inspector General hasn't investigated potential criminal cases involving fraudulent claims or payments on the TIERS system since November 2004 or civil overpayment cases since April 2005.
(This is because there isn't any way for them to investigate. It was never set up so that they could be refferred or investigated through TIERS.)
DHS said the inspector general began conducting fraud investigations on TIERS cases last month and on civil overpayments in September.
(In name only. Word has it that they still can't investigate the cases in TIERS.)
The auditor recommended that DHS contract with the state Department of Information Services to provide guidance on the appropriate design and architecture for TIERS. The agency said it expects to complete an agreement with the information services agency next month.
(Ummm, the system is already desinged, right? That's were all that money went four or five years ago?)
The audit noted that DHS' application for public assistance was 11 pages long, based on state and federal requirements. Some other states, it said, have shorter, more streamlined applications.
(Operative phrase - "based on state and federal requirements."
The report included the draft of a suggested, four-page enrollment form. But the auditor noted that, unless supplemented with additional information, the suggested application would require DHS to obtain "at least 25 waivers from federal regulations."

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State still lags in processing human services benefits

State still lags in processing human services benefits

Web Posted: 09/21/2007 10:56 PM CDT
Janet Elliott
Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — 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 as the state continues transitioning 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.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is developing the next steps in the transition to a new eligibility system. In March the state ended a troubled contract with Accenture, an outsourcing company the state had hired in 2005 to operate call centers and process applications for the Children's Health Insurance Program.
State eligibility workers were notified that their jobs were slated for elimination, and many found other jobs.
The privatization effort was beset by complaints of delays in enrollment and problems getting applications processed. Enrollment in CHIP dropped sharply, and HHSC officials quickly ended a pilot program using call centers to screen for a variety of government programs in Central Texas.
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.
The state auditor's office is reviewing HHSC's implementation of the 2003 integrated eligibility law that led to the Accenture contract. The audit also is reviewing a computer system known as TIERS that has been blamed for enrollment problems.
Anne Heiligenstein, deputy executive commissioner for social services, told an HHSC advisory council that the results of the audit will help the commission decide how to move forward.
TIERS, which is Web-based, will create electronic records and make it easier for state workers to check for fraud, Heiligenstein said.
But critics say the system hasn't worked properly since it was introduced in 1999. The HHSC inspector general said last year that investigators were unable to check for fraud and overpayments in food-stamp and other benefit programs in the two Central Texas counties where it is being used.
HHSC records show timeliness in processing food-stamp and Medicaid applications in the region using TIERS is lower than in any other region of the state. The gap is enough to make the entire state out of compliance with federal food-stamp processing requirements.

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I've been gone, but I'm not done with this site!

Note sure if anyone is still coming here....I've had some major things going on and am now again at a point where I can rev this engine up again.
There are many things to disclose- one being that although the Feds all but told HHSC to HALT any type of rollout into TIERS- it is still going on via the "Women's Health Program" and local office ART staff are bearing the brunt.
Clients are waiting anywhere from 40-60 days for their cases to be SCHEDULED, much less worked.
It's a true blue mess.
Please, send me things that I can post- don't care how old it is, it's just time to get it out there.

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Monday, June 04, 2007


I have to say that it's been a while.  You know, summer is upon us which is generally a very busy time in the offices.
That being said, I have to comment on Media Coverage.  You know, every article out there talks about CHIP.  CHIP CHIP CHIP.  Don't get me wrong, CHIP is a great program.  But you know what?  It's not the ONLY program.
What's more- those people on chip have a decent income.  No, they aren't RICH.  But they aren't getting $200 per month in income either.  That being said, no attention is given to Medicaid (which is also a program that can help improve the health of Texas children, and pregnant women, etc).  You only hear about how HARD it is to get CHIP.  Lost paperwork.  You know what?  Medicaid is having those issues as well.  So is the Food Stamp Program.  Tanf.  You know what happens when a family that is in the "new and improved computer system" TIERS program and they can't get their benefits?  They don't have money for FOOD. 
It just seems like to the Joe Public taxpayer, CHIP is a win-win.  It's health insurance for those who make too much for WELFARE (which is how Joe Blow sees Medicaid) and you have to pay for it.  So it is fine with Joe Public.  But do you think Mr. Public feels that way about a Medicaid card?  A Lone Star card? 
Guess what?  There are people out there who are still suffering at the hands of Hawkins and Co.  TIERS is dealing with it's caseload because it's been sent back to the ART workers.  The STATE EMPLOYEES.
Go figure.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Open Thread

Post about what's going on in your areas.
Also, anyone heard any concrete numbers on how much has been paid in overtime since all this happened?  I bet it could have bought a lot of workers.
Please email me articles as you find them.  Thanks!

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

This -n- That

I've been unavailable as of late and unable to update the blog- although many good things have been coming out- I encourage you to go to the right side of this blog and check out the links- right now the "Texas Observer" is doing a FANTASTIC job of documenting alot of the mess we are going through right now.
Also, I plan to do a post about the enormous pressure workers are finding themselves under in the local offices in regards to timeliness.  Here's the thing- Upper Management demand timeliness be brought under control.  There is a trickle down effect.  Advisors are now being told that we must get this under control "or else" (coaching, "could be dismissed")- as if this fiasco was even CAUSED by the advisors.  Um, no.  Let's not also forget that there is a cause for this problem with timeliness (someone sent me an email that showed Region 7 is sitting at under 80% timely right now and is under a "corrective action plan")-  and that cause is people (advisors) leaving.  No one can possibly reasonably expect (for example) 10 workers to do the work that 30 workers used to do and remain timely.  There aren't enough slots available to schedule anything timely.  How is this an advisors fault?  What does "Upper Management" want staff to do?  Lie?  Falsify dates?  Information?  I'm sure that somewhere out there an Advisor who is being coached for something over which they have NO control will think of other ways to make it better so they don't lose their job.  If you are being told this kind of information in regards to timeliness...leave a comment- is your office file dating 1010's correctly?  Are 1010's "missing"?  What is the scheduling issue in your office?  Email me if you'd like- all correspondence is confidential and remains anonymous.
More to talk about on this later......
Look for information from "Off the Kuff" on Monday also in regards to HHSC's response to the OIG audit of TIERS.  (Link is to the right).

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Check this out!

Another little something from the Texas Observer......

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

What Hawkins Knew

What Hawkins Knew

The State's Health Czar is Blaming Accenture for a program he was told would likely fail
by Dave Mann

In a misguided, poorly executed effort to let the private sector bring “efficiency” to Texas government, the state has squandered at least $100 million, cheated hundreds of thousands of needy Texans out of benefits, and now risks millions of dollars in federal fines for botching things up so badly.

This is not the promised land of free-market bounty that Republican lawmakers and right-wing think tanks described in 2003, when they convinced the Legislature to enact one of the most ambitious privatization plans any state has ever attempted. Back then, the talk was of how wonderful life would be as projections of $600 million in savings danced a lively jig through committee rooms and onto the House and Senate floors.

Now that the music has stopped, state officials are risking serious physical injury rushing to blame the debacle on Accenture Ltd., the private consulting giant that won the $899 million contract to set up call centers to help Texans get government benefits like food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid.

But many of those same officials—particularly Albert Hawkins, head of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission—were warned repeatedly that the program was being rushed, was never properly tested, and risked failure. The project plunged ahead anyway. An Observer review of thousands of pages of state documents reveals that while Accenture certainly made mistakes, it was Hawkins who relentlessly pushed the program toward launch on January 20, 2006—what HHSC described as the “go-live” date—despite numerous warnings from federal officials, Accenture, and his own auditor that the network of call centers wasn’t ready. HHSC officials also intentionally scaled back tests they knew the system would fail. And Hawkins moved the call-center project forward at two separate stages without obtaining prior federal approval—despite repeated warnings from the feds—actions that cost the state millions in federal funds.

“There were red flags,” says state Rep. Abel Herrero, a Corpus Christi Democrat who’s leading the legislative committee investigating the Accenture debacle. “There’s deep concern why the agency would proceed with an aggressive schedule with a program that was known to be deficient.”

The consequences of HHSC’s mismanagement are clear. The anticipated five-year savings of more than $600 million from the call-center plan haven’t materialized. In fact, the Accenture contract ran over budget. The state has already spent $30 million cleaning up the mess.

Moreover, thousands of eligible families mistakenly were dropped from government programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program—gaffes that cost the state tens of millions in federal matching funds. HHSC’s inability to enroll eligible families for benefits risks further fines and sanctions of up to $30 million from the federal government.

As head of the state’s five health and human service agencies, Hawkins is perhaps Texas’ most powerful unelected official. He remained a driving force behind the call-center plan even after former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, the Burleson Republican who drafted it, left state government to run unsuccessfully for Congress. His hunger to enact call centers has puzzled some observers in the Capitol. Appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in early 2003, Hawkins is a former budget director under then-Gov. George W. Bush. He’s an ace numbers man respected by lawmakers of both parties. While conservative politically, he’s not known as a rigid ideologue. All of which makes his mishandling of the call-center implementation peculiar. (Hawkins declined an interview request for this story.)

Perry has reappointed Hawkins to a new term. But the state Senate has thus far withheld his confirmation. It remains to be seen whether he’ll stay in his post, though there is no apparent attempt to oust him over the costly fiasco.

It began as a grand experiment to graft the principles of the free market and the private sector onto Texas’ system for screening and enrolling poor families in government benefit programs. In the past, those wanting to sign up for Medicaid or food stamps or welfare had to visit the nearest state office. A state employee would assess their needs, verify income, and proffer the proper forms for signing.

Under the new model, the state planned to close dozens of local offices, fire thousands of state workers, and replace them with four call centers run by a private company. Texans would access the social safety net much the same way they complain to the cable company about poor service. No state had ever outsourced such a core government function. But Republican lawmakers pitched their plan as the vanguard of a new movement, and in June 2005, Texas inked the largest contract in state history, awarding Accenture $899 million to run the show.

It never worked, and just 20 months later the great experiment was in ruins. After four months of dismal reports on Accenture’s continuing inability to make its call centers function, the HHSC tore up the contract on March 13. In the days after the massive deal came to an inglorious end, HHSC officials made clear in numerous statements that they put the blame on Accenture. Hawkins told a legislative committee that Accenture had assured him the call-center system was ready.

He was not telling the whole truth and nothing but, the Observer document review shows.

Hawkins and HHSC were, in fact, warned that the system was likely not ready. On two separate occasions, Hawkins failed to get federal approval for the plan despite repeated warnings from federal officials that prior authorization was needed to access federal money. Because Texas was attempting a radical reform that no state had ever tried, the feds had a keen interest: Several federal agencies would have to give their blessings at every major stage, or Texas would risk losing federal funds. This was particularly true of the food stamp program, which has slightly more stringent enrollment requirements.

The federal Food and Nutrition Service warned HHSC, according to memos, that Washington needed to approve the call-center plan before HHSC put out a call for private bidders. Yet HHSC published its request for proposals without federal approval on July 22, 2004. Four days later, the nutrition service wrote HHSC, “Please be advised that, pending our approval of your RFP, you are proceeding at your own risk and that no federal funding for this initiative can be provided ... until we have fully approved it.” FNS eventually approved the funds.

Trouble arose again in early 2005 as HHSC began negotiations with Accenture. FNS warned Hawkins that it had to approve the final contract before it was signed and that FNS needed 60 days to do that. Despite early and repeated warnings, HHSC gave the feds a lead time of exactly one day. The state submitted the Accenture contract for federal review on June 28, 2005, according to agency documents. On June 29, 2005, HHSC signed its deal with Accenture. The feds seemed baffled. “If Texas had followed the normal course of events, the State would have secured the approvals. ... Since the contract was signed before obtaining our approval, the funds that are expended now must be State funds and may not be reimbursed,” FNS wrote on July 14, 2005.

FNS did approve the contract in November 2005. But in the intervening five months, HHSC lost about $12 million in federal funds, according to an agency spokesperson. (FNS so far has denied the state’s attempts to recoup that money.)

On March 7 of this year, Herrero, who heads the subcommittee of the House Committee on Human Services that is investigating the Accenture fiasco, asked Hawkins at a hearing why his agency brushed off the feds. “We still believe that all those elements do not require federal approval,” Hawkins said. “But that aside ... we have been in constant communication with the FNS. It’s not that they were unaware of the elements of the contract or how the state was moving forward. They had not finalized their approval on it.” He later claimed that the Accenture contract was the only part of the call-center project that didn’t gain prior federal approval. “The one that did not was the contract—not prior approval. There was for the RFP,” Hawkins said. That statement isn’t accurate, according to a review of FNS memos.

When the feds finally approved the Accenture contract, they did so with conditions: FNS granted federal funding for only the project’s first three months. The agency was concerned that HHSC was rushing out a system that would deny benefits to eligible families—a concern that would prove prophetic. “We continue to have concerns about the seemingly unrealistic time frames for implementation of the state’s plan,” the feds wrote to HHSC.

Indeed, the state was in a major rush. After signing the contract, HHSC gave Accenture just seven months to set up its call centers before the January 20, 2006, “go-live” deadline, when the centers would begin fielding calls from needy Texans in two Central Texas counties. HHSC wanted the call centers to handle all enrollment statewide by December 2006. Could HHSC and Accenture really transition all enrollment and eligibility for complex programs that serve millions of Texans in 11 months? The feds didn’t think so. “[FNS] had some real anxiety about the aggressive conversion schedule that the state had developed,” Hawkins recently conceded to Herrero’s subcommittee. “[FNS] did advise us that it should be slower.” He ignored their advice.
As the go-live date fast approached, HHSC received several more warnings of flaws in the system and admonitions that its rollout schedule was too ambitious. Two independent verification audits, one commissioned by HHSC and one by FNS, reported serious problems with the call-center system, according to a report issued last fall by the Texas Comptroller’s office. HHSC’s own inspector general’s office also warned Hawkins of flaws in the call center’s computer system. In late December 2005, Accenture warned HHSC of “red,” or critical, system failures. The company, formerly a division of Arthur Andersen LLP, a defunct accounting firm, had run into a serious technology problem.

An Accenture subcontractor planned to use computer software to record applicant information at call centers. Problem was, the contractor’s software couldn’t interface with the state’s computer system. The inability of the two systems to talk to each other would prove a critical obstacle. To make matters worse, the state software was new. HHSC was rolling out a new computer system, known as Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS—pronounced “tears”). The complex system is aptly named: It has been a constant source of heartache for state officials since its botched creation by accounting firm Deloitte and Touche LLP. Texas has spent the past five years and tens of millions trying to fix TIERS, with intermittent success. It has been perhaps an even larger disaster than the call-center contract. Yet HHSC had decided to package the call-center system with TIERS and planned to roll them out together.

HHSC officials say Accenture promised them it could “work around” the software incompatibility problem. Accenture would hire more workers, at the company’s expense, to do “dual entry,” meaning tediously typing in the same information twice—once into each software program. It was an ironic solution since the call centers were supposed to make the whole process more efficient. The “work around” resulted in numerous bureaucratic errors. Anne Heiligenstein, a deputy commissioner at HHSC, recently told lawmakers that, “We went to pilot [stage] based on the ... information the vendor brought forward that there was a viable solution [to the technology problems]. We accepted that. They offered that, I’m sure, in good faith. It did not achieve what it needed to achieve.”

Taking Accenture’s assurances at face value, HHSC decided not to test how well the call centers’ technology functioned before the rollout. In the rush to launch the system, HHSC officials instructed Accenture to scale back several elements of its final readiness testing.

Accenture’s report on readiness testing in January 2006 reads, “Due to significant delays in testing for the rollout coupled with a decision to go live on January 20, 2006 without regard to actual results of the Readiness Assessment Tests, [Accenture] and HHSC agreed to a scaled back Readiness Assessment Test that would only test critical technical components.” In fact, components of the system that would later prove to be major flaws—staff levels, staff training, proper routing of calls, fraud prevention, and computer compatibility—were intentionally dropped from the readiness tests, according to Accenture documents. The software also wasn’t tested because HHSC officials already knew the computer systems couldn’t talk to each other and would fail the test, according to the HHSC. Agency officials say a test wasn’t needed because they believed Accenture’s promises that manual entry would solve the problem.

What about the other flaws omitted from the readiness tests? HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman says that Accenture’s “Readiness Assessment Tests” were just one form of testing.

Whatever elements Accenture left out, she says, HHSC tested on its own before the rollout.
Still, problems were evident. Herrero says the call-center launch should have been delayed. “The standards and quality-assurance levels were lowered to meet the schedule set by the commission,” he says.

Despite the warnings, HHSC left itself without a backup plan. In late 2006, the agency notified nearly 3,000 state enrollment and eligibility workers that they would soon lose their jobs. Predictably, this led to an exodus. More than 800 veteran enrollment workers took jobs elsewhere in state government, and hundreds more simply walked out. The loss of institutional memory proved disastrous when the call-center plan failed, and HHSC found it needed the state workers, some of whom had done enrollment for decades. “What’s troubling to me is that the commission would encourage employees to go elsewhere before there was a successful, integrated eligibility program,” Herrero says. “There were problems. The go-live date was fast approaching, and despite that, [state] employees were advised that their jobs would no longer be needed.”

As the warnings had predicted, the call-center system became a mess. The failures are well documented. Once Accenture took over screening in two Central Texas counties, and screening for the Children’s Health Insurance Program statewide, enrollment in all benefit programs began to drop.

Enrollment in CHIP declined by as much as 27,000 kids in early 2006. (It’s difficult to determine how much of the CHIP shrinkage was caused by the call-center failure; the program had been declining for several years before the Accenture deal.) The children’s Medicaid program had expanded for years prior to the call-center debacle. After the go-live date and the loss of state workers, 118,000 children lost Medicaid coverage in just nine months. Denying these CHIP and Medicaid benefits deprived the state of at least $50 million in federal matching funds.

In the end, the call centers were overwhelmed by the number of calls, inadequate and poorly trained staff, and malfunctioning technology (Accenture’s “dual entry” solution was far too mistake prone and inefficient). Wait times and backlogs of applications swelled. Accenture sent out renewal letters dated May 8 that informed clients their deadline for reapplying for benefits was April 15. One Accenture fax number mistakenly routed benefit applications to Seattle.
After four months, HHSC halted the call-center rollout on May 10, 2006. It never resumed.

HHSC scrambled for a backup plan, rehiring thousands of state workers and paying out “retention bonuses” to keep temporary screeners. Cleaning up the Accenture fiasco cost the state $30 million, according to HHSC, money it still hopes to recoup from Accenture.

For now, state employees once again are handling screening and enrollment. But with the loss of so many longtime enrollment workers, a system that functioned well before the call-center experiment has suffered permanent damage. Texas used to routinely earn good-performance bonuses from the food stamp program for its mistake-free enrollment system. In 2004, for instance, the feds paid the state $150 million in bonuses. Now it’s the opposite. For the first time in years, Texas’ food stamp enrollment error rate—the number of applications the state botches—exceeded the national average in 2006. If the error rate breaks the national average again this year, Texas will face penalties and sanctions from the federal government that could approach $30 million.

In a recent hearing, Herrero asked Hawkins why HHSC didn’t heed warnings from the federal government, auditors, and the agency’s own contractors. “I thought it better to follow the direction of the Legislature,” he said, “and to achieve the savings [from the call-center plan] ... to fit within the [HHSC] budget.” In other words, he ignored the warnings so his agency could realize the estimated savings. It was an ironic answer since the call-center rollout ended up costing the state millions.

I say: In any other business anywhere else, if this happened, Hawkins would have been fired. Heads would roll in the State Office Corridors. We certainly know that if a worker(s) were the cause of this much money being flushed down the drain, they'd have CERTAINLY been fired. If QC read cases on Worker A who gave out millions in error- that worker would be GONE. Virtually IMMEDIATELY. Yet, Hawkins, in whatever quest he's on - is still the "head" of this and still hasn't been asked to leave. This is one of the #1 articles I've ever read and/or posted. Forward this to everyone you know- even folks not associated with this and tell them this is their TAX MONEY going down the drain.......word needs to get out about this. It's not JUST ABOUT HHSC anymore- it's not just about the "poor". It's about Texans paying taxes to a state who is so very loose with their money.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Open Thread

Leave a comment about whatever- rumors, opinions, what's going on in your office, anything you want.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Accenture BRAGS

Accenture Clients Win Best of Texas Award Two Years Running

Best of Texas 2006 Award for Best Application Serving the Public: TexKat Web-based Evacuee Assistance Program, Texas Health and Human Services Commission
**I wonder if Accenture is going to post about their great "success" with the call centers too?

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Pretty old but interesting

Article done when Bush was still the Gov- and there was talk of privatizing us THEN.....

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Follow the Accenture money

It's a sad day when the economics department is teaching it's graduate students to draw lazy, obtuse conclusions instead of conducting rigorous research. Garth Huetel's column ("Learning from failed privatization," March 20) seems to pull its ideas from a couple front-page stories and Google searches instead of doing what should be second-nature to a student of economics: following the money.

If he'd dug a little deeper, he'd have discovered that the Accenture deal tanked not because of "political zealotry," but because of a hopelessly flawed bidding process where Accenture was hand-picked over vastly more qualified competitors. He'd have found a web of cronyism that revealed that the authors of HB 2292, Gregg Phillips and Chris Britton, were subsequently hired by Accenture to win the contract for work mandated by a bill that they helped write. And that former Gov. Rick Perry staffer Ray Sullivan and some former Gov. George W. Bush staffers also found work with Accenture. And that Accenture had a long, embarrassing track record working with government agencies spanning almost a decade in Nebraska, Virginia, Ohio, New Brunswick, New York, Ontario and other places, where they engaged in a pattern of cost overruns and poor service, prompting the Nebraska treasurer to say that dealing with Accenture was like "pouring money down a deep, dark hole."

Unfortunately, the bidding process at HHSC and other state agencies, with their governor-appointed directors/cronies, is just like that deep, dark hole. If you really want to explore why privatization fails in Texas, start talking about transparency.

Marc Duchen
UT alum
March 20, 2007

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Good one....

Fr. John Whiteford gives a good commentary about the "Bittersweet Vindication of Carlos Guerra" given the fact that he called the demise of the contract (as did we) a LONG time ago.

Go check it out HERE.

Letter to the Editor

Re: "Texas terminating deal with main social services contractor – Medicaid, food stamp duties going back to state; official defends system, admits flaws," Wednesday news story.
The North Texas Food Bank applauds the decision by state Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins to end the contract that outsourced the food stamp program.
Now it's up to the Legislature to make sure the Health and Human Services Commission gets the staff and funding it needs to fix the problems privatization created.
The complicated food stamp program requires an adequate number of trained staff to run. If privatization had resulted in a more effective and efficient program, we would acknowledge that. But it only made things worse, delaying services to thousands of hungry North Texans.
The population served by this important program is our most vulnerable – the hungry, the poor, the elderly and our children. We cannot afford to try to get it right.
Jan Pruitt, CEO, North Texas Food Bank, Dallas

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House panel seeks answers on Accenture

House panel seeks answers on Accenture

Hawkins details next steps

Friday, March 16, 2007

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Editorial: State learns lesson about privatization

Editorial: State learns lesson about privatization

San Antonio Express-News
Perhaps the best lesson to be gleaned from the experience of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission with Accenture LLP is this: Modernization of the state's public services is not necessarily synonymous with privatization.
Privatization has been a mantra of Gov. Rick Perry and the GOP leadership in Austin . In 2005, the state awarded a five-year, $899 million contract to a consortium of companies led by Accenture to run a pilot program for the Texas Integrated Eligibility and Enrollment Services.
The program covered eligibility and enrollment for the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. But the privatized effort has been fraught with problems.
A report last year from the Center for Public Policy Priorities found that more than a third of people trying to call the eligibility centers were abandoned. The average wait for phone calls was 22 minutes. The consortium's computer system didn't interface with the state's system. And there's a good chance that rather than saving money, this experiment may end up costing Texas taxpayers.
This week, the state and Accenture agreed to cancel the contract. It was the right decision.
The Health and Human Services Commission still needs to modernize the delivery of its services. And a billion-dollar bureaucracy is bound to suffer from waste and inefficiencies that some degree of privatization can help cure.
The pilot program for integrated eligibility ought to offer some practical experience about which functions private contractors can perform and which state workers should perform. A looming question: How much will the terminated contract cost the state?
As the Legislature considers even greater privatization - for Child Protective Services - it should take this experience and the costs of privatization to heart.

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Roper: Privatizing welfare services would put profit above children

Roper: Privatizing welfare services would put profit above children
Austin American-Statesman
Texas recently announced the termination of its contract with Accenture, the private company the state hired to enroll Texans in health care, food stamps, and other social services. Though privatization was supposed to save the state money and improve services for families, thousands of the most vulnerable Texans were wrongly denied benefits and the state didn't save a dime.
Despite the failure of this privatization experiment, legislation is still in the works to privatize another essential state service - Child Protective Services, the child welfare arm of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. CPS investigates reports of child abuse and neglect and works to protect these children.
The first opportunity for the Legislature to discuss what to do about privatization will be this week when the Senate Health and Human Services Committee considers Senate Bill 758 by Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville. The bill calls for less privatization, but still moves Texas toward a privatized CPS system.
Historically an underfunded agency, there is no question that CPS needs more funding to hire additional staff and improve services for families. For 10 years, I represented CPS as a prosecutor and children in the foster care system as an attorney ad litem. I saw CPS' challenges firsthand. However, privatization won't solve the problem any more than it helped enroll Texans in public benefits.
A few weeks ago, I went on a fact-finding mission to Florida , which privatized its child welfare system over the past 10 years.
I talked with many of the people who are directly involved in the system, including lawyers, judges, service providers, community-based care agencies, state agency staff members and the guardians ad litem appointed to represent the best interests of the children in foster care. It became clear that privatization is not the solution.
For one thing, privatization is costly. In Florida , child welfare costs have risen. And despite the fact that the private companies promised more competition, better and more innovative services for children and families, more community involvement, more accountability and better outcomes for children, Florida has not seen substantial improvements. In fact, the rate of re-abuse after children have been returned home has risen since private entities took over.
In addition, privatization has failed to prevent the same problems in Florida that plague Texas ' current child welfare system - high caseworker turnover and caseloads as well as inadequate resources for services for families. I heard many stories of inexperienced caseworkers who don't know what they are doing and who don't return phone calls. Even some initial proponents of privatization admitted to me that Florida has made a huge mistake.
Privatization in Florida also has resulted in conflicts of interest. Back here in Texas , pressure to reform CPS by privatizing isn't coming from child advocacy groups or even CPS itself, but from those in the private sector who would make more money in a privatized system.
Inevitably, the desire to make the most money will lead to financial decisions that could trump the best interests of children.
Privatization is risky business. There are no guaranteed results - which is dangerous in a child welfare system that makes life or death decisions regarding children. Decisions made by CPS - whether abuse has occurred, whether to take a child from a parent, whether to return a child to a parent or whether to place the child with a relative or in foster care - should be made by public employees who don't have a conflict of interest.
Those in the child welfare system are the victims of bad choices made by grownups. Texas must make careful, thoughtful choices in the best interest of the children in the state's care. Privatization isn't one of them.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ah, privatization: Texas provides case study of failure - Daily Kos

FSSA preps for privatization:
Indianapolis - On Monday, more than a thousand state employees will begin working for a computer giant. It's part of the state's efforts to privatize Indiana's welfare system. (more...)

Here's to hoping INDIANA caseworkers/office personnel don't get to experience the same personal hell we have in Texas.

Valley leaders thrilled at canceling of Accenture contract

(My comments are in red at the bottom-HHSCEmployee)

Valley leaders thrilled at canceling of Accenture contract

March 17, 2007 - 4:11PM

AUSTIN — They said it wasn't working; now they say it's about time.

Leaders from the Rio Grande Valley praised the announcement last week that the state would phase out its contract with Accenture LLP, the company hired to help the state process eligibility applications for human-services benefits and oversee the Children's Health Insurance Program.

In 2005 the state entered into an $899 million contract with a group of companies led by Accenture. State leaders wanted to privatize the eligibility system for Medicaid and food stamps and let Accenture process CHIP applications.

The contract came after lawmakers in 2003 made cuts to the human-services budget.

But problems with the company's performance arose. Advocates of the working poor said families who applied for CHIP benefits found that the company lost and mishandled applications. CHIP enrollment dropped below 300,000 for the first time since the program started, but has since rebounded.

"The continuous mishandling of documents has resulted in thousands of children being dropped from CHIP, Medicaid and other services," said the Rev. John Lasseigne, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in San Juan and a leader of Valley Interfaith. "This has not only produced a loss of federal funding, but more importantly has jeopardized the health of our children."

Responsibility for handling CHIP applications is slated to be gradually returned to state employees.

But the move toward modernizing the state's eligibility centers continues. State leaders heard for several years from angry clients that closing local offices in favor of phone and Internet processing was a burden on people in poor and remote areas.

"Our goal hasn't changed," said Albert Hawkins, Health and Human Services commissioner. "We want to make it easier for Texans to apply for services by modernizing technology and letting citizens choose how they want to submit an application, whether that's in person or by phone, mail, fax or Internet."

Some Valley lawmakers praised the news that the contract would be phased out.

"Unfortunately, decisions made in 2003 devalued some of our most loyal state employees by jeopardizing 2,500 positions, and the result has been disastrous," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Lucio and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, both said the end of the contract was overdue and that state employees have benefits-handling expertise that private companies lack.

Hinojosa said it was high time to make the change.

"I called on state leaders last summer to cancel this contract because the private company was simply not getting the job done," he said.

Now that it's not spending the money on the Accenture contract, the state may have more money available in the long run to enroll more children in CHIP, said state Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, who sits on the House Committee on Public Health.

"When you spend $900 million, you better get your money's worth, and we definitely didn't get our money's worth with Accenture," Gonzales said.

Others argue the termination of the contract just goes to show that privatization works, because government can stop dealing with companies that don't meet expectations.

"If a private vendor fails to meet the agency's expectations, the state can hold that vendor accountable," Mary Katherine Stout, vice president of policy for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said in a statement. "Government employees never face such scrutiny for similar failures."
(HHSCEmployee Comment:  Government employees never face such scrutiny for similar failures?  When?  Let's see, actually- the "Government Employees" were the ones that made it possible for Texas to receive MILLIONS of dollars in enhanced funding due to the accuracy and "correct" handling of cases from the Federal Government.  Not only that, if an employee is NOT meeting requirements, they do face scrutiny- which is called TERMINATION.  I realize that even responding to a comment made by Ms. Stout is a waste of time, given the "Think Tank" she works for...however, I felt it important that it's said.  Texas Access Alliance took on a job it could NOT handle.  Period.  This is about issuing MILLIONS of dollars in State and Federal Benefits.  TAX PAYER MONEY.  Accenture/TAA got in this deal TO MAKE MONEY.  And they DID- even though the results of this contract have been DISASTROUS to the people we serve. )

Elizabeth Pierson covers the state capital for Valley Freedom Newspapers. She is based in Austin and can be reached at (512) 323-0622.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

More Texas Access Alliance "stuff"

All DabJab posts regarding Texas Access Alliance are HERE.......what's interesting are some of the posts have information that I've missed on this it might be worth looking at.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Search Words

I just wanted to note that today I had someone search for my blog with this:
Search Words disgruntled state employee blog
I just wanted to let anyone know who wasn't sure that contrary to what you may believe, I'm not disgruntled.  I care about the agency I work for.  I care about the clients that we serve.   If I didn't, I wouldn't care what was going on in the offices- and rather than try and do something about it, I'd sit around work and gripe about it- and that's not what I'm doing.
dis·grun·tle      [dis-gruhn-tl] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–verb (used with object), -tled, -tling.
to put into a state of sulky dissatisfaction; make discontent.
That's so not my goal here.
Just felt like I needed to clear that up!

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Human Services chief defends failed contract

AUSTIN — Lawmakers had some tough questions for the state's health and human services chief on Thursday about his decision to sever ties with a contractor hired to help make it easier for needy Texans to receive public benefits.
Members of the House human services committee wanted to know what went wrong with the state's $899 million contract with the Texas Access Alliance, a group of companies led by Bermuda-based Accenture LLP.
Albert Hawkins, head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, announced Tuesday the agency was cutting ties with the contractor after efforts to re-negotiate the troubled contract failed.
"I've been frustrated to hear Accenture's bad and I'll agree Accenture was bad," said Rep. Patrick Rose, the committee's chairman. "But then what comes after Accenture's bad has been: 'But everything's fine.' I don't think our contracting quality control is fine."
Hawkins defended the 2005 contract, saying it included strong performance measures that let the state hold Accenture accountable for technical and operational problems that arose over the past 14 months.
The Texas Access Alliance was hired to help run a new state computer system that would let people apply for benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid over the phone, online or in person.
The project debuted in Travis and Hays counties in early 2006 and was supposed to be implemented in all 254 Texas counties by the end of the year. But technical and operational problems forced Hawkins to indefinitely delay the rollout last spring.
Problems also cropped up when the Texas Access Alliance took over processing applications for the Children's Health Insurance Program, the state's low-cost health insurance program for the children of the working poor.
The problems were so serious that Hawkins announced in December he was slashing the contract by more than $350 million and curtailing the responsibilities given to the group's employees.
But the state and company couldn't agree on the terms of the new contract, he said.
The state plans to sign short-term contracts with Accenture subcontractors to do some of the work over the next two months. Meanwhile, officials will decide what jobs should be done by state workers and what jobs can be outsourced.
Rose, a Democrat from Dripping Springs, said his committee wants to be closely involved in that process. He asked Hawkins to give them a list of lessons learned from the contract's failures and regular updates on decisions about the project's future.
"I think it would be a mistake for us to think that the Legislature doesn't need a larger role in monitoring and overseeing and maintaining quality control over the process," he said.

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