TN computer problems have cost taxpayers millions

The Tennessean has a Sunday review of multtmillion-dollar computer problems that have plagued Tennessee state government. Here’s the list of impacted agencies:

TennCare: The agency scrapped a $37.5 million computer system earlier this year after multiple failures kept people with disabilities as well as pregnant women from enrolling. The failures earned a sharp rebuke from federal Medicaid officials and a federal lawsuit.

Department of Children’s Services: Under orders from a federal judge, the department has poured millions of dollars into fixing hundreds of glitches in a computer system launched in 2011 to track child welfare and abuse cases. The costs have soared to $38 million since then. The department told a federal judge earlier this year that the majority of problems have been fixed.

Department of Human Services: The Department of Human Services in 2013 scrapped a 7-year-old, $20 million computer software system that was intended to modernize how the agency processes food stamps and Medicaid caseloads.

Department of Revenue: Failures of a new computer system within the Department of Revenue intended to track car titles cost taxpayers $40 million after the department spent 10 years developing it before conceding in 2013 it showed no signs of ever working.

Department of Labor and Workforce Development: The department’s computer system problems contributed to an estimated $98 million in unemployment claim overpayments during the past six years — including checks issued to prisoners, dead people and state employees — and those overpayments could balloon to $171 million, according to the Tennessee comptroller. The department’s problems may not be fixed until 2016, when four-decade-old mainframes are scheduled to be replaced.

The full story starts thusly:

Acting on a tip that state workers were rubber-stamping hundreds of unemployment claims without vetting them, auditors with the state Comptroller’s Office headed to a Nashville claims center to investigate.

The manager pointed them to a stack of paperwork — unemployment benefits he said had just been approved.

But after examining the paperwork, auditors also searched through office drawers and filing cabinets. Inside they found letters dating back months from employers disputing some of those claims — including a letter from one company noting the worker applying for unemployment checks was still employed by the company and earning $154,384 per year. That worker’s unemployment payments had just been approved.

Since that inspection, the Comptroller’s Office has estimated that the state wrongly doled out $98 million in unemployment claims during the past six years — including checks issued to prisoners, dead people and state employees. Auditors estimated that figure could balloon to $171 million to account for payments made after the audit was complete and made public in March.

Officials with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, responsible for unemployment insurance claims, have attributed the overpayments to the “technological limitations” of a 40-year-old computer system so fraught with errors it forced them in some instances to resort to a manual and paper system that appears fraught with even more.