TX union wants IT privatization slowed

Massive privatization plan is being rushed, union says, and the result could be bad news for taxpayers if costs skyrocket to fix problems.

Two years into a massive and controversial privatization program of the Texas state government's computer systems, Texas' largest state employee union called on the legislature to put off the deal, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Citing two troubled computer-services contracts at the Health and Human Services Commission as a reason not to outsource other state services too hastily, the Texas State Employees Union asked for the delay in a letter to members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee.

"The planned signing of the contract is overly hasty and exposes Texas taxpayers to the danger of yet another costly high technology contracting boondoggle," the union stated in the letter.

The restructuring deal includes a complex restructuring of the state's information technology systems and is expected to cost the state millions of dollars. The contract is scheduled to be signed by Wednesday.

"DIR accelerated the schedule for signing this contract," union VP Mike Gross said. "When state agencies rush into massive and complex IT projects such as this one, the result for Texas taxpayers is always bad. DIR needs to take a more deliberate, cautious approach to make sure that it gets this complex project right."

The deal is a whopper: 31 data centers, 16 mainframe computers and more than 7,000 computer servers at 1,300 locations are covered by the department's outsourcing contract, according to the union.

"The IT functions that these agencies depend on for day-to-day operability will undergo unprecedented, massive changes. The changes would be all at once in the 27 agencies, with no apparent back-up plan. DIR has decided to move this project forward on an accelerated schedule, even though recent experience with other high-technology contracts has been bad and all indications are that much more caution would be appropriate," Gross said.

Certainly, there are early indications of problems.

A state auditor's report last week disclosed that the new enrollment system did not contain information needed to track welfare fraud investigations. Because of that, health and human services fraud investigators could not pursue welfare fraud cases in Travis and Hays counties since the enrollment system started being used in those counties as part of a pilot program in 2003.

Another report of the new enrollment system's performance last summer found that a separate contract, with Accenture LLP, put into operation a call-center technology tool before it was ready, which contributed to a customer service backlog that has been the subject of public complaints.