06 Apr Auditors outline what they want to know about state IT projects
The findings of an audit into troubled information technology projects and systems in state agencies might lead to legislation and even more audits, according to the co-chair of the Legislative Audit Committee.
State senator Carol A. Roessler, R-Oshkosh, anticipates the audit will be completed in about a year, in time for work on the 2007-09 biennial budget. “That is critically important to us because there are going to have to be adjustments,” Roessler said. “Number one, we may have legislation that comes out of this. We may have future audits that come out of this because of what we learn. So this has some fiscal outcomes as well.”
Members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee listened Wednesday to hours of testimony from state auditors and employees, who recounted implementation and cost problems that state agencies have had with several large-scale information technology projects. State IT spending now exceeds $740 million, and while there is no precise figure, auditors estimate that technology implementation problems have cost state taxpayers millions of dollars that cannot be recouped. That prompted the committee to authorize an audit of the state’s information technology systems and the multiple IT contracts it has statewide.
Roessler said there are so many reasons for the audit, it’s hard to capsulize them. She characterized state government as a business with thousands of different IT systems plagued by a high complexity of contracting, cost overruns, and questionable outcomes. “We are a business, and there ought to be a better, streamlined, cost-effective way of doing this as a business,” she said.
Don’t start over?
In addition to cost overruns, auditors have cited several examples of operational problems upon implementation and delays in implementation. In one case, a $14 million contract for a voter registration database, which represents the development of an entirely new system, is behind schedule and has failed to meet a federal deadline. The State Elections Board is administering the contract, and the work is to be completed by Accenture, an information management firm.
“We’ve got a voter identification project where other states have dropped their contracts with the provider that still is under contract to the State of Wisconsin,” Roessler said. “How are we in this situation?”
Kyle Richmond, public information officer for the State Elections Board, said the project already is deployed to one third of the required counties, representing 27 percent of the state’s population. He said dumping the contractor and going back to a new request for proposals would put the state an additional 18 months behind.
Part of the Election Board’s challenge is Wisconsin’s localized system of election administration, which requires the training of thousands of municipal workers in 1,850 villages, towns, and cities, plus county clerks. “I’m not sure that’s a good argument to make to the U.S. Department of Justice, to say that we can be more compliant, any better or any faster, by starting over again,” Richmond said. “Wisconsin doesn’t have any statewide system to fall back on, and we have large areas of the state that have never had voter registration and therefore don’t even have their own systems to fall back on.”
Richmond said progress has been made in cleaning up software bugs and data-conversion problems. He also noted the contract contains a provision that allows the state to hold back 20 percent of the value of the contract if Accenture has not delivered everything correctly and on time. “I’ll let you draw the conclusions there,” he said.
The state’s IT audit will include an inventory of projects in progress in each executive branch agency, and an inventory of projects completed at each executive branch agency in fiscal years 2003-2004 and 2004-2005.
Auditors have been directed to perform case studies of selected major projects to identify the nature of problems and the reasons for them, and review the effectiveness of oversight structures. Auditors also will examine IT contracting procedures, including mechanisms employed by other states.
The questions Roessler would like answered in the audit pertain to whether projects are effectively completed on a timely basis, whether they are fully analyzed before going forward, and whether there are penalties for poor performance. “There are many pieces of this inventory that must be measured to get the intended outcome we want from each of these projects,” she said.
• Audit of multi-million dollar state IT spending will proceed