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Excellent article on the FSSA privatization mess

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 2:25 pm    Post subject: Excellent article on the FSSA privatization mess Reply with quote

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, June 3, 2006:

Governor Takes Control

There are two ways that Gov. Mitch Daniels’ decision to take over the Family and Social Services Administration’s move to privatize welfare eligibility could go.

He could ensure that a decision that profoundly affects so many fragile lives receives the careful analysis it should have gotten in the first place, bringing light and clarity to a murky process.

Or he could advance a pre-ordained contract that gives $1?billion to FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob’s former employer. If he chooses the latter, he’ll be greasing the skids on the road to a debacle.

FSSA’s attempt to farm out the agency’s most crucial function to a for-profit company invites disaster by expecting thousands of poor people – many of them elderly – to navigate a complicated benefits system virtually on their own. A better solution is to give overworked welfare caseworkers the technology to help their clients more efficiently.

Things have not gone according to plan at FSSA. By now, Roob had expected to be deep into negotiations to turn the state’s welfare eligibility system over to a for-profit company with instructions to save the state money. Instead, Daniels announced on Tuesday that the privatization decision “will be made by me and me alone” and appointed a team to review the two bids received and recommend whether to move ahead.

Because state officials seem hell-bent on going ahead, their most immediate problem lies with the two bidders, a consortium led by Accenture LLP and one led by IBM that includes ACS, Roob’s former employer.

Lawmakers in Texas are debating whether to fire Accenture, which they blame for a laundry list of snafus that arose when the state converted to a centralized, computerized welfare eligibility system much like the one Roob envisions for Indiana.

Accenture has also lost contracts in several other states. IBM has its share of unhappy customers, too, recently losing a similar contract in Georgia.

And, of course, there’s the question of whether Indiana could hand Roob’s former employer a $1?billion contract and pass the ethics test.

David Warrick, executive director of Council 62 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents FSSA workers, is right to criticize state officials for failing to produce a cost-benefit analysis for the change. Hoosier taxpayers are expected to accept on faith Roob’s and Daniels’ assurances that privatization will save the state money.

And a cursory review of the problems of other states that tried to outsource benefits programs should make state officials reconsider the wisdom of a risky, massive overhaul for which they don’t have a backup plan.

Everyone agrees that FSSA should do a better job serving its clients, and most would agree that replacing the agency’s antiquated computer system would go a long way toward improving service. Why not consider contracting for a new computer system that would solve some of the agency’s problems?

A few thousand FSSA employees would be more than happy to use their intimate knowledge of the public benefits system and the people they serve to help a contractor build it better.

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