Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

12-18 State Government Has Become a Deadbeat

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- If you do any kind of business with the state, you've probably heard of SHARE by now. That's the expensive, new accounting and personnel system the state began using on July 1.
As always, with new computer systems, it was supposed to make everyone's work simpler, easier, faster and more efficient. And as always, it has done just the opposite for almost six months now.
Businesses that supply goods and services to the state have begun cutting the state off until it pays its bills since last July. It is reported that payment to some 11,000 jurors has been delayed. Jurors get paid a pittance and are in trouble if they don't show up. Now, they're not even getting paid.
And for those employed by the state, matters are even worse. Many state employees are having to defend SHARE to an angry public every day, while curtailing their own anger about not getting paid or being paid the wrong amount.
The idea of SHARE is a good one. The state's many agencies were using some 70 different accounting and human resources processes. SHARE streamlined them into one system, called the Statewide Human Resource, Accounting and Management REporting System. Yes, the acronym is all messed up. Maybe that should have been their first clue.
The system was installed in record time, resulting in enormous cost savings. But it also produced some mighty big problems. State employees tell me that in the rush not all necessary procedures were programmed into the system, so SHARE isn't able to perform some of the operations it needs to be doing.
The state also saved money by buying the system off the shelf and then hiring a different company to help make it work. So they didn't have to pay for a warranty or an extended warranty.
More money was saved by agreeing to use a smaller number of technical experts than turned out to be necessary to get the system up and running in every agency. That problem was to be solved by training trainers in every agency.
But training trainers didn't work. The SHARE system is very unforgiving. If procedures aren't followed exactly, the system won't work. That means the technical experts must be intimately familiar with the system in order to help troubleshoot.
On Dec. 11, the Legislative Finance Committee called the project managers to testify. It was evident from their remarks that trouble shooting the many problems had finally shifted into high gear, with meetings throughout the previous week and weekend.
But the overall message was that everything is fine. Any problems have been solved. "The system is working. It is doing what we want it to do," said the state Chief Information Officer Roy Soto.
And then came the questions from committee members. They weren't as hard hitting as I had expected, likely because the questions had been asked many times before. The answers indicated that the project managers were keenly aware of problems they hadn't acknowledged in their presentation.
The toughest questions came from Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell. He noted that the state is very unforgiving when a citizen makes an error, but seems to expect citizens to be patient while the state gets its act together.
Jennings also asked what is being done to hold harmless state employees who are financially impacted by SHARE mistakes. What happens Jennings asked, when an employee makes bill payments the day his check is supposed to be direct deposited, but the deposit doesn't happen and the businesses tack on an extra charge to the employee for a bounced check?
Soto said the state has set up a Web site for employees to notify it about paycheck problems, but he twice avoided answering whether the state would do anything to compensate employees for their losses.
Jennings indicated that most private employers would feel some responsibility toward their employees. He also noted that private employers would get sued for some of SHARE's mistakes that the state is just shrugging off.
MON, 12-18-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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