Pennsylvania lurches from one software boondoggle to another

Source: Joseph N. Distefano, Philly.com, December 1, 2017

The phones stopped working again at Pennsylvania’s unemployment-compensation offices Tuesday. “Due to vendor-related technical issues,” the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The same department has had to rely on what state auditors in May called “antiquated” software, written in the COBOL language used by punch-card programmers in the 1970s, since spending more than $160 million on a replacement system that failed. Elsewhere in Harrisburg, the Department of Human Services paid benefits to a couple of thousand dead people after computer systems failed to flag them as ineligible, auditors found last year. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the last full audit found water-quality reviews used “decades-old” data updated by hand. And after contractors were paid $800 million over the years, more than four times its projected cost since the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network still doesn’t work as designed.

… So Mr. Grove is sponsoring House Bill 1704, which would combine most state departmental IT offices and their short- and long-term planning, procurement, and cyber-security protection into a single Office of Technology. It would be part of the governor’s Office of Administration, under a director with the power to kill or suspend projects that run over budget or below standards. Pennsylvania IT contracts need “better controls” and “stronger clawback mechanisms” (performance bonds), so taxpayers can get their money back when the systems they buy don’t work, elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat like Gov. Tom Wolf, said at a Nov. 14 hearing on the bill. … But Mr. Wolf’s appointees worry that the new office could “duplicate” and “conflict with” current procurement rules, Curt Topper, Mr. Wolf’s Department of General Services chief, told Mr. Grove at the hearing before Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s Government Affairs Committee. …