Saturday, November 29, 2014

The story that makes last year's roll-out of look like a model of success

Here's the story from New Jersey:
Gov. Chris Christie's administration has pulled the plug on a seven-year-old $118.3 million contract for what had been billed as a “comprehensive and cutting-edge” computer system to make Medicaid, food stamps and other social welfare programs easier to manage, including some that have been hobbled by backlogs, NJ Advance Media has learned.

The state Department of Human Services’ contract with Hewlett Packard to produce the Consolidated Assistance Support System, better known as CASS, “has been terminated, and an analysis is in progress to determine next steps,” department spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie confirmed.
It reminded me that something similar happened in Indiana several years ago.
Indiana has ended its troubled $1.3 billion deal with IBM to provide welfare services to the state's neediest families.

For months, 13 Investigates has shown you how the largest contract in state history has failed to deliver...

Daniels said IBM was fired for failing to live up to its $1.3 billion deal with the state despite months of warnings to fix the broken system.
But the truth is, its happening all over the country.
In recent years, computer errors have disrupted a wide range of government-run programs across the country, including Medicaid, unemployment benefits and child support payments...

Such errors happen for many reasons, experts say. States are short-staffed and lack technology experts. They rush out new computer systems before the systems are ready. They fail to oversee IT contractors.

The glitches often take months or even years to fix because technology for poor people is not considered a high priority, according to David Super, a Georgetown University law professor who studies government technology projects.

After hiring dozens of engineers and programmers from tech industry giants like Google and Oracle, the federal government largely fixed problems with the health-care website in about two months. But many states have taken much longer to fix computer errors with welfare programs. Colorado’s troubled system for food stamps and Medicaid has been plagued by glitches and delays for the past decade.
The names of companies associated with these failures read like a "who's-who" of corporate giants...Hewlett Packard, IBM, Xerox. But rather than fix the systems, the story seems to be that problems persist, contracts are eventually cancelled, and then the back-and-forth law suits begin to fly. Meanwhile, those depending on these programs suffer.

There are a lot of lessons we need to learn from all this. I doubt that we'll be able to avoid the reality that government will continue to partner with businesses when it comes to the use of technology. But the conservative mantra that private corporations are more effective than government in managing these kinds of programs is exposed as a lie.

Finally, when everyone's hair was on fire over the problems with the roll-out of, it might have been nice for the media to provide some context for the challenges the tech field has faced in producing systems that actually work. In the end, it looks like Obamacare is a model of success.


  1. One of the dirty little secrets in IT is that approximately 50% of all outsourcing contracts end up being failures. That's actually an improvement over the past decade, it used to be around 80%. There are two core problems: The first is the assumption that someone else can do it "better, faster, cheaper;" the second is that the people writing the contracts have little knowledge of what the requirements actually are.

    As someone who has worked in IT - and yes, as an outsourcing consultant at one time - I have yet to see any major project "work right the first time," and lord knows, I've seen more than my share of lousy efforts (and contracts).

  2. similar happened with Oregon's epic fail Obamacare state exchange.

    this is why I love Washington: decent AND competent.

  3. That seemed to be MN problem also with the Mnsure rollout. From the stories I've heard, the people in charge didn't want in put from the agents that sell insurance and what was needed. That is too bad. I am not always fond of the Business take over of some if not all of the out sourcing, but businesses do have a roll in putting people to work and paying taxes. Am I blinded sided by this? I don't think so. What ever President Obama is doing, bringing businesses and academia & other outside groups does seem to have an effect.