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.

The state rehired Deloitte to manage TIERS, and HHSC personnel handle call center operations. Deloitte declined to be interviewed for this article, citing a company policy against commenting on projects while under contract. Today, TIERS handles about 5 percent of the HHSC's cases, according to Goodman, with pilot deployments in Hays, Williamson and Travis counties accounting for most of that.

In January, the HHSC began a new Women's Health Program and uses TIERS for enrollment. The commission also converted the state's foster care records to the program in March. Still, the federal government is withholding approval of TIERS rollouts for food stamp programs in additional counties until new functions can be built into the program, including the ability to track historical records of food stamp fraud.

Despite the struggles involved in launching the call centers, Texas officials remain convinced that their efforts eventually will pay off.

"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, and what a strain it can be when large numbers of citizens call in at once, Gumbert said, adding that he's prepared to work on the program for a long time.

"We're taking small steps," he said. "That's the only way to do something like this."

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.