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Today’s number: $2 million

Friday, Mar 28, 2014

* From an Illinois Auditor General’s report on the State Employees’ Retirement System

During our examination we noted that there were problems with the Modernization - Re-Engineering Project.

The project has been ongoing for five years, is only 20% complete, and over $2,000,000 has been expended by the State Retirement Systems collectively.

Due to staffing issues and the lack of a project management framework and the associated documentation, the project has not been fully implemented. In addition, formal documentation to provide detailed information on the current status and projected completion date is lacking.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


31 Comments
  1. - OneMan - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:35 am:

    Ongoing for 5 years and 20% complete…

    That is one way government is different, unless you are developing an OS or something in the private sector you can’t do a technology project over 5 years (no less be looking at a 25 year completion time frame at the current rate).

    Technology changes too much, heck even the ‘frameworks’ the audit references change over that period of time.

    Would be interested to see what the project scope and goals are (assuming they exist).


  2. - Weltschmerz - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:36 am:

    How do you start a project without a Preliminary System Design and who approved it?


  3. - Weltschmerz - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:37 am:

    OneMan - You couldn’t do it in my state division when I was there.


  4. - VanillaMan - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:39 am:

    Five years.
    No project management framework.
    No project management framework documentation.
    Project not fully implemented.
    No formal documentation to review regarding project status.
    No projected completion date.

    Holy mother of all things holy!

    It must be agonizing to work in the auditor general’s office and cover this kind of mismanagement, incompetence and maladministration.

    Disgraceful!


  5. - Demoralized - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:42 am:

    ==you can’t do a technology project over 5 years==

    I’ve seen my fair share of technology projects take several years to complete. It’s generally due to lack of staff, turnover of staff, lack of funding, and the convoluted contracting process that government must go through (i.e when you get through the process the technology you were going for may have been replaced by something a little better). I was involved in a technology procurement that took more than a year to complete from beginning to end.


  6. - PMcP - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:43 am:

    To be honest, depending on the system they’re on and the system they’re upgrading to, long change windows are going to happen. I’m assuming they’re still on an IBM OS (which IBM hasn’t been updated since the 90s) so those things take a while since you’re skipping generations of intermediate technology and the data sources aren’t easily convertible to Windows/Unix environments.

    That being said, you’d expect them to be near completion at this point, the five year window itself shouldn’t be too surprising, assuming the technology is as outdated as I’m guessing it is.


  7. - OneMan - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:52 am:

    Demoralized,

    Well then you are one up on me, 20 years in the industry and never saw anything take more than about 18 months (nothing even close to 5 years) and the 18 months was a complete redesign of a software package we sold.

    Even using this example, odds are your hardware specs have had to have been at least twice in 5 years. Your target OS will have likely gone through 2 major versions. If you are doing a web app you would have seen the option of the cloud come into play. If you are using a DB technology you would be on your third major version of most of the popular DB platforms in that time.

    Bottom line IMHO the audit makes sense if you are 5 years in and 20% done project planning at this point is likely like trying to nail jello to the wall.


  8. - PublicServant - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    Really hard to tell here. “Due to staffing issues…” means what exactly? A certain level of documentation is necessary, but in and of itself documentation, if not maintained, over time always becomes, well…a lie.

    Demoralized has it right.


  9. - cod - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 10:55 am:

    Honest pension reform would have addressed problems like this, instead of reneging on retiree’s pension contracts.

    Real reform has still not been done, but it is really needed to protect pensions from plunder.


  10. - Curmudgeon - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    Have to agree with Demoralized & COD on this. Been thru a fairly successful State “Re-engineering” project and have been in programs & agencies where projects stalled because the key people left, legislators or the “the Feds” or Gov’s office/central administration kept changing the parameters or the legislators or Gov;s office choked off the funding. The best comparison would be to the Navy’s procurement of new multi-function “brown water” ships, in which the specs and expected outcomes are constantly being revised. This is almost certainly NOT a “buy a new computer system & install it” technology project.


  11. - Norseman - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:14 am:

    OneMan, this is one of the differences between government and the private sector. Demoralized accurately states the issues that I’ve experienced as well. I was frustrated by it, but that is the way it is. Shortly before I retired, there was an IT project the director wanted to be completed in six months. Almost two years later, that project still has not been completed. Sad, but the results of the staff shortage and other factors mentioned by Demoralized.


  12. - Demoralized - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:20 am:

    @OneMan:

    I was just providing my personal experiences. Some get done quickly. Others don’t.


  13. - VanillaMan - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:33 am:

    Look at that again guys.

    This isn’t about spending $2 million on a project that is five years old.

    This is about spending $2 million on a project over the past five years that hasn’t even been given a project management framework!

    This is like spending $2 million on a house that hasn’t a blueprint, a contractor, or clue.

    This is shameful.


  14. - Walker - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:34 am:

    One Man, Norseman, Demoralized, et al, clearly right to criticize.

    Only specific I might add, is that I read “staffing problems and project management” to mean that the best tech people and project managers have been RIFed or turned over, as the number of state employees has dramatically shrunk in the same time period.

    I’ve heard that complaint in more than one state department. Great idea, almost no people to do it.


  15. - RetiredStateEmployee - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:39 am:

    Actually, the IT problems go back much further. I was there in 2005 and the in house system was so far out of date, there was no IBM support. They were beginning to convert the obsolete mainframe system to a PC system. There have been management problems even further back. No money for staff, no money for training and no money for upgraded hardware. I can’t believe it has taken this long for someone to notice the problems with this agency.


  16. - Sunshine - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:50 am:

    Take a look at some of the “old” system software still in place at DHS. A primary vendor, IBM, has created a nearly unsolvable situation in several agencies by their control and lack of focused and planned technology change.

    Top programmers have left or are leaving. What is happening at SERS isn’t at all unusual as it is like starting over every year. Long term technology planning in government is difficult at best; New rules, new programs, new platforms, new ideas from uninformed politicians, and no money.

    At least their investing for retirees appears to be doing moderately well.


  17. - RetiredContractor - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 11:58 am:

    After 15 years in the private sector, I was on contract to the state for a major project. Our first meeting with the state employees maintaining the current state system was a real shocker. One systems analyst spoke up that there was no need to change anything, she only had 13 years until she retired. Some of the other state employees agreed with her. These were IT staff! I was totally floored and found out later that they were only starting to do something because of the auditor general’s report of their current system. Their system was already a dinosaur and they stalled us at every opportunity. State management never supported the project. The project dragged on forever (or it just seemed like it.) I finally had enough and left.


  18. - DuPage - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 12:06 pm:

    Where did the $2,000,000 come from? Did they take it out of SERS pension fund money?


  19. - Jack Handy - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 12:18 pm:

    An auditor general’s report does not have the same impact on goverment union employees as a simple status report does to private sector employees.

    This will continue for another few years and then will probably be abandoned.


  20. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 12:41 pm:

    If there was a staffing problem, where did the $$ go.


  21. - Smitty Irving - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 12:55 pm:

    Knowing only what I’ve read in the news part of the post, this isn’t surprising. The State of California had trouble with their retirement system upgrade.
    http://blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/2011/11/calpers-retirement-benefits-computers-pensions.html

    The Feds have tried, and failed, since the Reagan Administration to upgrade their system.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/03/22/sinkhole-of-bureaucracy/

    Whatever other problems there were, government pensions, by their very nature, are difficult to write software for because of all the legislative “addons” that make programming very difficult. From the WaPo link: “The task takes so much time in part because Congress has made the federal retirement rules extremely complex.”


  22. - flea - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 12:58 pm:

    not surprising …CMS is in the lead on this project, right?


  23. - Curmudgeon - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    Vanilla Man: “This is about spending $2 million on a project over the past five years that hasn’t even been given a project management framework!
    This is like spending $2 million on a house that hasn’t a blueprint, a contractor, or clue. This is shameful.”

    No, this is reality when you have to deal with different Governors bringing in different staff, changing agency directors with completely different “visions”, revolving door bureau/division management, and so on. Add to that Federal agencies (if your program is substantially Federally funded) who are pushing you to install a system that was developed for a substantially different state legal and operational structure and demand compliance with security protocols that are altogether different from what other Fed agencies are demanding, and all of which are difficult to reconcile with what CMS is trying to implement …

    In other words, you’re dealing with six different blueprints which are being revised annually by 3 different architects, and you’re dealing with 5 contractors, each of whom insists that he is the prime contractor.


  24. - Gantt Chart - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 1:09 pm:

    No, Flea…this one can’t be blamed on CMS. SERS has their own IT braintrust running the show.


  25. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 1:19 pm:

    Curmudgeon, your point is often valid, but I don’t think that fact pattern applies here.

    SERS has historically run a pretty lean staff, particularly in the areas not directly related to providing the pensions. That thrift, coupled with having to go through CMS and let us not forget all the pension law changes since 2009 that would impact IT, likely put them in this jam.

    Good folks running that shop. They just need a few more hands on deck.


  26. - Fiercely Independent - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 1:37 pm:

    Curmudgeon

    SERS is not under the Governor


  27. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 1:40 pm:

    My Bad. Retract the part “about having to go through CMS.”


  28. - Fiercely Independent - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 1:42 pm:

    Arthur Andersen

    Not being under the Governor’s office, SERS is not required to go through CMS for everything. They may be doing it, but they don’t have to.


  29. - Curmudgeon - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 2:36 pm:

    Yeah, I realize SERS isn’t under the Governor (for which I give thanks!), but when I wrote that response, I was thinking of state agency projects I’ve been involved in and gov’t projects IN GENERAL, be they high tech, low tech, or no tech involved at all.


  30. - Interesting priorities - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 3:23 pm:

    At least the project managers aren’t eating sandwiches at their desk, because they’d have to do something about that waste.
    http://capitolfax.com/2012/05/30/inspector-general-clouseau-strikes-again/


  31. - Confused - Friday, Mar 28, 14 @ 3:43 pm:

    Is this agency building a pension application from scratch? There are pension software packages!


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