Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lawmakers Want Straight Talk From SHARE


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- "We want your most pessimistic forecast," Sen. John Arthur Smith, of Deming, told the top administrator of SHARE, the state's new $32 million computer system.

      Smith, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, was tired of hearing 10 months of rosy reports only to be blindsided by constant new revelations of the system's problems.

      There's a high degree of frustration among committee members, Smith said, and we want to know where we really are.

      Roy Soto, the state's chief information officer, has been accustomed to telling the Legislature's finance panel that SHARE is working as intended and that only minor glitches remain to be ironed out.

   Many of the payment glitches seem to be corrected after monthly reports of private contractors going our of business, vendors refusing to sell to the state any longer and state employees bouncing checks they thought were covered by automatic deposit of their payroll vouchers.

   But the important function of departmental accounting has a long way to go. Every agency has its own unique needs and yet the accounting system the state bought was designed as a one-size-fits-all. That means many adaptations are necessary. It can be done, but it takes highly skilled people to do it. And it doesn't happen overnight.

   Unfortunately, implementation of SHARE was rushed, with too few skilled operators and too much reliance on training people in every department to take over the new system immediately.

   Even more unfortunately, a project that was done hurriedly and on the cheap also was accompanied by orders that it better work and that no complaining would be allowed.

   It is unclear who issued all those unfortunate orders, but Gov. Bill Richardson is getting the ultimate blame. There is nothing wrong with the idea that all state government be on the same system, but big difficulties have to be anticipated.

   In recent years, we have read of new computer systems at the state Labor Department, the Taxation and Revenue Department, the Human Services Department and the Transportation Department, none of which worked as expected. Why would anyone think that a system covering all of state government wouldn't have problems in every single department?

   We already have heard of problems in several departments. Except for the edict that no one had better complain, we would have heard of problems in every department.

   A member of the Legislature's Information Technology Oversight Committee tells me all departments are quietly keeping a second set of books because they know that, otherwise, they will not be able to close out their fiscal year at the end of this month.

   Despite Soto's claims that the system is working and that only minor bugs remain, we are about to learn the answer to Sen. Smith's question about how bad things are going to get.

   The state auditor is not optimistic about closing the state's books on time. No one seems to know how financial reports from the new system are going to reconcile with the reports from the many systems in use last year.

   The state Treasurer has appointed a blue-ribbon committee to evaluate whether SHARE can meet its needs as the state's official banker. Federal auditors will be here in July to determine whether SHARE will ever be able to account for how federal highway money is spent. And the Legislative Finance Committee plans a complete audit of SHARE during the coming months.

   How can the governmental entities mentioned above question the viability of SHARE despite the edict about no complaining? It's because none of them are under the governor's office. They are either separately elected officials, a different branch of government or a higher level of government.

   Word from SHARE officials and the governor's office is that other states have experienced similar difficulties and that it is difficult to get some employees to accept change.

   Both may be valid answers, but it is the stonewalling that is so frustrating.

FRI, 6-08-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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