By Lauren Dake • The Bulletin

A string of IT troubles for the state

The Cover Oregon website joins a list of bungled high-tech rollouts. Here’s a sampling of some others.

DMV upgrade

In 1993, the Oregon Legislature approved $56 million to overhaul the state DMV’s 1960s-era computer system. But the project turned out to be too big to accomplish and was largely scrapped.

State data center

In 2005, the state had problems with a move to consolidate 12 of its major data processing centers under one roof.

Oregon Medicaid Management Information System

In 2008, a new computer system charged with processing hundreds of millions of claims for Oregon Health Plan members had glitches causing missed deadlines.

Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network

In 2009, questions began to surface about the state’s attempt to build an emergency-radio network. Ultimately the $600 million project was scaled back.

Employment Department software

More recently, The Oregonian newspaper discovered myriad problems with the Oregon Employment Department, including $6.9 million spent on a software project that failed to work.

Source: Bulletin reporting

Lauren Dake and David Wray / The Bulletin

SALEM —

The botched rollout of the state’s health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, might have surprised some. After all, the state was an early adopter, excited about the idea and kicked off work on the website well before other states.

But now, Cover Oregon joins a list of high-tech undertakings the state oversold, at least initially.

Each project’s circumstances were unique, but many of the narratives are familiar: missed deadlines and millions of dollars spent on a system that struggled to function.

“If you were to ask me, prior to the debacle of Cover Oregon, how I was feeling about IT projects … I thought we were doing a better job,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, who co-chairs the Legislative Audits, Information Management and Technology Committee.

“I’m dismayed,” Devlin said, “what we have publicly is in effect a new DMV” scenario.

From ‘wild enthusiasm to despair’

For years, when citing bungled state projects, a $56 million attempt to overhaul the state DMV’s 1960s-era computer system topped the list. In 1993, the Legislature approved funding to update the DMV’s computer systems. But by 1995, problems were evident, with glitches and delays in customer service.

In 1996, the bulk of the project was scrapped.

“It’s one of those things that no one ever forgets,” said Shelley Snow, spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

More than 20 years after the Legislature greenlit the update, DMV field offices still can’t accept credit and debit cards, and the system’s mainframe has not been replaced, which will likely continue to pose problems.

Because the computer system is so old, DMV spokesman David House said, the number of people who still know the programming language is diminishing.

In 2005, a new project hogged headlines. There was a push to centralize the state’s major data processing centers. The Computing and Networking Infrastructure Consolidation, or CNIC, project was given the go ahead by the Legislature and moved to put 12 of the major data centers of different state agencies under one roof.

The $63.6 million project was expected to lower costs through consolidation.

In 2006, a Secretary of State audit showed the project’s expectations were not being met, that it jeopardized the state’s security, and because of “ineffective contract management, it was unclear what value the state received from at least $3.4 million of contract dollars spent.” Audits in later years were equally as critical. But in 2012, a state audit showed many of the early issues had been resolved.

A few years later, a new computer system charged with processing hundreds of millions of claims for Oregon Health Plan members struggled. Among other issues, the system often had trouble telling people whether they were eligible for services. At times, people instead entered data manually.

Officials said federal deadlines pushed the state to go live with the $80 million project before it was ready.

Problems were immediately evident in the Medicaid Management Information System and took several years to reconcile.

“Pretty much everyone was very unhappy, in that way it’s similar to Cover Oregon,” said Linda Ames, a legislative analyst with the Legislative Fiscal Office.

And then there was OWIN, the Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network.

The state’s problems trying to build a $600 million emergency-radio network dominated headlines before the project was ultimately scaled back starting in 2011.

“Projects run from wild enthusiasm to despair and there was wild enthusiasm …” said Bob Cummings with the Legislative Fiscal Office.

Instead of 300 new towers, the state redirected the project, called it the Revised State Radio Project, and planned for closer to 30 towers. Much of the money already spent on the larger idea was salvageable, Cummings said, but about $5 million of taxpayer money was wasted.

More recently, The Oregonian discovered myriad problems with the Oregon Employment Department, including $6.9 million spent on a software project that failed to work. The agency is still working with consultant BlueCrane, which it paid $400,000 to analyze what went wrong.

There have been, of course, instances where the state has been able to turn a project around. The $90 million computer project to help the state’s court system, known as Oregon eCourt, looked like it might be tacked onto the problem list.

“We saw that it was in jeopardy and the only control we have over things is on the money side. We slowed the distribution of money,” said Legislative Fiscal Officer Ken Rocco.

Unlike some of the other projects, such as OWIN and Cover Oregon, eCourt was not driven by meeting federal deadlines.

“So we had the luxury of slowing it down until it was ready,” Cummings said. The rollout of eCourt has happened in stages. Next up is Multnomah County, which will be the largest county integrated so far, and it will test the success of the project. Crook and Jefferson counties have already implemented eCourt.

Other projects on the horizon

The state’s Department of Revenue is in the midst of a $90 million project to upgrade its core computer system after an audit found millions of dollars in delinquent taxes were going uncollected. And there are other high-tech projects in the work spanning state agencies.

“The key is that we don’t duplicate these problems with the (projects) coming,” Rocco said.

The state recently hired a new chief information officer who is tasked with overseeing the state’s IT systems and projects, a job that in 2013 was changed to a governor-appointed position and given more authority.

In the upcoming February legislative session, Matt Shelby, spokesman with the Department of Administrative Services, said the agency will bring forward a new IT governance model to change the way the state manages large IT projects.

Sen. Devlin still hopes the state’s health insurance exchange can fix its glitches and work properly.

Not only because the state needs the exchange, he said, but also because it needs to work to regain the public’s trust.

“We have too many systems that have to be upgraded, and we can’t expect the public to be supportive if we fail,” Devlin said.

— Reporter: 541-554-1162, ldake@bendbulletin.com

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