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State Computer System Failures Cost Tennessee Taxpayers Millions (Opinion)

From the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to the Department of Revenue, antiquated systems and software deficiencies have wreaked havoc on the delivery of state services.

by Knoxville News-Sentinel / June 4, 2015

(TNS) -- The new Tennessee state logo unveiled late last month by the Haslam administration has come under stinging criticism for its simplistic design and for its $46,000 price tag.

The real outrage, however, should be directed toward the state's incompetence in buying and operating computer systems across multiple agencies — failures that collectively cost Tennessee taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a report on the failures published in the Tennessean last week.

The ineptitude is staggering. From the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to the TennCare Bureau to the Department of Revenue, antiquated systems and software failures have wreaked havoc on the delivery of state services.

The most egregious example can be found in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, where the Comptroller's Office has estimated the state has paid out $96 million in bogus claims and overcharges during the past six years. That figure could grow to as much as $171 million. Prisoners, employed citizens and even the dead received checks, according to an audit of the department.

The Comptroller's Office places part of the blame on mainframes that are four decades old — in use when Jimmy Carter was president, Ray Blanton was governor and Knoxville's civic leaders were debating the merits of hosting an international energy exposition. The system is scheduled for replacement in 2016.

A new system does not guarantee a working system, however, as the Tennessean's report details. The Department of Revenue spent $40 million over 10 years to develop a system to track car titles before giving up on the project in 2013.

The TennCare Bureau ditched a $37.5 million computer system that failed to allow pregnant women and people with disabilities from enrolling.

A federal judge ordered the Department of Children's Services to fix problems in its 4-year-old computer system, which is supposed to track child welfare and abuse cases. The overhaul has cost taxpayers $38 million.

Two years ago the Department of Human Services canned its $20 million software system that was designed to handle the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid cases.

Such debacles make the flap over the new logo seem irrelevant. Composed of a red square with the state's postal code abbreviation, TN, in white letters above a blue stripe, the design vaguely resembles GM's iconic logo. Nashville-based design firm GS&F created the logo, which is supposed to provide a uniform visual identity for all state agencies. Unfortunately, the logo, though suggestive of the Tennessee flag, does not convey anything unique about the Volunteer State. Using the state flag's blue circle with three white stars instead of the postal code abbreviation would have been easier, more effective and much less expensive.

State agencies need to be better stewards of taxpayer money, whether they are developing a $46,000 logo or a multi-million dollar computer system. The citizens of Tennessee, not Nashville bureaucrats, are the ones who are paying for this pervasive and pernicious incompetence.

©2015 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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