makes sure that the technology side of the house communicates with the business side of the house. So it's not a tech marvel that produces nothing, and it's not a tech flop that produces everything the business side wanted. It's a mixture of the two."

The oversight committee will hold public hearings to get input on the program, and come up with recommendations for the next Legislature by December 2008, according to a bill passed in May by Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs.

Goodman said that today, the HHSC uses TIERS to handle 5 percent of its cases, and the pilot in Hays, Williamson and Travis counties accounts for most of that. In January, the agency began a new Women's Health Program and uses TIERS for enrollment. The HHSC also converted the state's foster care records to the program in March.

Still, the federal government is holding back on approving the program's further rollout to handle food stamps in any new counties until a few new functions can be built into the program, including the ability to track historical records of food stamp fraud.

The HHSC cut off its contract with Accenture in March, and rehired Deloitte to manage TIERS, and HHSC staff handles call center operations. Deloitte declined to be interviewed for this article, citing a company policy against commenting on projects while under contract.

"I think the future is going to continue to move in this direction, to more and more distance encounters and distance enrollments. It's just getting the technology to a reliable state," Flood said. "We were the test state."

People forget how big Texas is, Gumbert said, and what a strain it can be when everyone calls in at once. It's been a long struggle to get TIERS where it is today, and Gumbert said he's prepared to be working on the program for a long time. "We're taking small steps," he said. "That's the only way to do something like this."

Many more states will be moving to new eligibility systems in coming years, and Goodman said Michigan, for one, is using TIERS as the basis for its own program. To venture so far into uncharted waters, with so many people's critical benefits on the line, is an inherently touchy proposition. As other states move ahead with similar programs, Goodman said all managers can do is prepare themselves to face inevitable challenges.

"When you have a system that serves 30 million people and approves critical benefits," Goodman said, "there is no margin of error."




Patrick Michels  |  Contributing Writer
Patrick Michels is based in San Francisco and Austin, Texas. He writes for Government Technology, Texas Technology and Emergency Management magazines.