Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

3-2 SHARE Still a Disaster Despite State Claims

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Problems with SHARE, the state's new, $29 million computer system continue despite assurances from top state officials that everything is peachy.
The officials in charge of rolling out the system swear that the only problems left are those caused by human error. If that is true, the system is too complicated to be operated by mere humans.
The latest major embarrassment came when 17,000 W-2 Wage and Tax Statements were mailed to state employees with errors. That's a 57 percent error rate. This latest humiliation was explained away with a statement that the system wasn't to blame. It is functioning as envisioned.
That is totally unbelievable. Obviously something isn't functioning as envisioned. A computer-savvy legislator tells me that the system, built by Oracle, does work, and that Maximus, the company hired to make it work, is capable of doing that.
The problem is that the state wants its employees to take over operation of the system in a completely unrealistic time frame. The idea is for Maximus employees to train state employees to train other state employees to run the system.
But this is a highly complicated, unforgiving system. If the slightest mistake is made, it doesn't help one through it as a personal computer would. Maximus recommended three years to get everything up and running. The state wanted it done in half the time with half the number of specialists.
I'm familiar with a private company that ran a somewhat similar system at the Los Alamos National Lab for the previous contractor. It was expected to be there indefinitely. If a scientific laboratory needs that much outside expertise, it seems logical the state of New Mexico might also.
But salary payment and reporting isn't the biggest of the problems. I am told that state government is slowly grinding to a halt because outside contractors are not being paid.
In some cases other contractors or suppliers, willing to take a gamble, can be found. But in other cases, the state is dealing with sole suppliers. When they refuse to do business with the state, important services stop.
Federal grants that require state paperwork and in some cases, matching funds, are going to waste because the system can't produce the required documents and state employees can't track what is happening within the system.
For these and many other reasons, I am told, all departments are keeping a set of shadow books to try to keep up with their budgets. Because of this, employees tell me, there is tremendous potential for abuses that could make New Mexico another Enron.
So who is responsible for all this? I have been blaming it on the governor's office for not putting competent employees in charge of the program and not wanting to admit mistakes.
I now am beginning to see the Legislature as complicit in this too. At its October meeting, the Legislative Finance Committee raked state officials over the coals for failures in the program. At its December meeting, the panel received reports that glitches had been fixed and everything would be operating smoothly by March.
That report was accepted with little questioning by the committee. And it was reported by the press with no follow up. Lawmakers and reporters must be getting as many communications as I am from distressed state employees and outraged businesses.
I am told a letter exists in state files from Maximus saying it will not be responsible for success of the roll out of this system because of the speed and understaffing the state imposed. No one has been able to obtain a copy.
I'm also told that the amount withheld from the final state payment to Maximus is not sufficient to correct the problems. Any extra money required will have to be appropriated by the Legislature before it adjourns.
That money should be appropriated because there are no other choices to make SHARE work. But lawmakers seem to be too busy dividing their pork.
FRI, 3-02-07

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



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