Category Archives: Information.Technology

City-owned Internet services offer cheaper and more transparent pricing

Source: Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, January 15, 2018

Municipal broadband networks generally offer cheaper entry-level prices than private Internet providers, and the city-run networks also make it easier for customers to find out the real price of service, a new study from Harvard University researchers found. Researchers collected advertised prices for entry-level broadband plans—those meeting the federal standard of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds—offered by 40 community-owned ISPs and compared them to advertised prices from private competitors. The report by researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard doesn’t provide a complete picture of municipal vs. private pricing. But that’s largely because data about private ISPs’ prices is often more difficult to get than information about municipal network pricing, the report says. In cases where the researchers were able to compare municipal prices to private ISP prices, the city-run networks almost always offered lower prices. This may help explain why the broadband industry has repeatedly fought against the expansion of municipal broadband networks. This fight includes pushing legislators to draft anti-municipal broadband state laws, lobbying against local ballot initiatives, and filing lawsuits against cities that build their own networks. …

Federal Fraud Recoveries Decline in Fiscal Year 2017

Source: Project on Government Oversight, January 2, 2018

… The DOJ announced it had recouped $3.7 billion through settlements and judgments in False Claims Act cases in fiscal year 2017. This amount is nearly 23 percent lower than the previous fiscal year, but roughly in line with FY 2015’s total. This seems to be a trend: a historical analysis of DOJ’s fraud recoveries since 1986 (the year Congress substantially strengthened the False Claims Act) shows that, in recent years, a substantial drop-off occurs in non-election years. … As in past years, the largest share of the recoveries—about two-thirds—involved health care fraud. But a substantial sum also came from some of Uncle Sam’s largest contractors:

  • AECOM and Bechtel: $125 million to settle False Claims Act allegations that the contractors charged the government for deficient materials and services at the Hanford Nuclear Site. Separately, AECOM paid over $5.2 million to settle another fraud investigation involving its work at Hanford.
  • Agility: $95 million to settle a 12-year-old case accusing the company of overcharging the government for food supplied to U.S. troops in the Middle East.
  • Atlantic Diving Supply: $16 million for allegedly inducing the government to award small business contracts to companies misrepresenting their eligibility as socially or economically disadvantaged small businesses.
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries: $9.2 million to resolve claims of overbilling the government for work at its Mississippi shipyards.
  • Pacific Architects and Engineers: $5 million to settle allegations that it failed to properly screen and oversee personnel working on a contract to train Afghan security forces.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation: $14.9 million for allegedly causing the government to pay inflated labor costs on contracts.
  • Defense contractors accounted for $220 million in fraud settlements and judgments.

Better data, oversight needed to boost diversity in tech

Source: Bloomberg Government, Chris Cornillie, December 7, 2017

Federal technology contractors may soon need to meet higher standards for diversity or risk losing government business, according to new recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In a report released Nov. 30, the government’s top watchdog calls on two government offices, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), to overhaul their efforts to, “combat discrimination and support equal employment opportunity for U.S. workers” in the technology industry. … According to the government’s top watchdog, deficiencies in EEOC and OFCCP data reporting processes challenged their ability to hold companies accountable for meeting employment targets for traditionally underrepresented groups. However, most of GAO’s criticism was aimed at OFCCP, which is responsible for enforcing nondiscrimination among federal contractors. The study found that OFCCP regulations allow contractors to report employment of racial and ethnic minorities using a single, combined metric, rather than reporting figures for each group individually. … Given the national debate on diversity in the technology industry — and in the workplace in general — GAO’s findings could have a significant impact on federal contracting. GAO called on OFCCP’s director to take steps toward requiring contractors to disaggregate employment data by racial and ethnic group. … Perhaps most significantly, GAO’s report may catalyze support for expanding diversity in federal contracting, especially in the IT space. … Perhaps most significantly, GAO’s report may catalyze support for expanding diversity in federal contracting, especially in the IT space. …

Read full report.

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. …

Ige appoints new director for troubled state tax department

Source: Kevin Dayton, Honolulu Star Advertiser, December 6, 2017
 
Gov. David Ige today named Linda Chu Takayama as the new director of the state Department of Taxation in an effort to quickly replace outgoing director Maria Zielinski in what has emerged as a pivotal position in Ige’s administration.  Takayama is a lawyer who now serves as Ige’s director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and previously served as state insurance commissioner. Zielinski abruptly resigned effective Tuesday in the wake of a report that revealed state tax officials instructed a supposedly independent consultant on which subjects it should address in its monitoring reports on the progress of a new $60 million tax computer system. … Ige is under intense pressure to efficiently execute the $60 million contract to replace the tax department’s old computer system. State government has had an embarrassing history of botched computer projects dating back to previous administrations, and the computer system for collecting state taxes is a critical piece of state infrastructure.  The project has already stirred controversy. Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, wrote to Gov. David Ige on Oct. 31 to object to the decision to take control of the project away from Zielinski and TSM Program Manager Robert Su earlier this year. …

How the Prison Phone Industry Further Isolates Prisoners

Source: Kalena Thomhave, American Prospect, October 12, 2017
 
When inmates are able to speak to friends and family while incarcerated, it not only improves their lives, but also, studies have shown, reduces recidivism after they leave prison. But to fill in budget holes or to make a profit, many state and local governments work with companies that put a high price tag on this basic need for the incarcerated.  A handful of companies monopolize the prison phone industry, and their control of the market allows them to charge exorbitant rates for inmate calls to their homes. States that contract with these providers tend to choose the contractor that provides not the lowest price, but the highest commission rate for the state. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay up to $1 per minute on a call. …

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Face-to-Face Family Visits Return to Some Jails
Source: Mindy Fetterman, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 15, 2017

… Jailhouse visits like this one between family members and inmates are starting to make a comeback, replacing a decadeslong trend of requiring families to use Skype-like video technology in which families dial in from a computer at home, a public library or inside the jail itself to talk to a loved one who is incarcerated. The reason: Video technology companies came under criticism for charging high fees and for providing poor quality video connections. And evidence is growing that in-person visits help cut the likelihood that inmates will return to jail once they get out. Counties in Texas and Mississippi as well as the District of Columbia are reinstating face-to-face visits. A few states, like New Jersey, are considering legislation to allow in-person visits again.

… Although in-person visits remain the most common form of interaction between inmates and family members, the trend toward video visitation has been growing since the late 1990s. More than 500 jails and state prisons in 43 states have some sort of video visitation system, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. About 12 percent of jails have it, according to a study by PPI, which advocates for prisoners and their families. … And as video visitation has increased, face-to-face visitation has declined. The PPI found in a 2015 study that 74 percent of jails dropped in-person visits when they started video visits. Often the private companies that provide video visitation services require governments to drop in-person visits. … More than one in three families go into debt to cover the costs of staying in touch with people who are incarcerated, including paying for video calls, telephone calls and travel expenses for trips to jails and especially prisons, which can be hundreds of miles away, according to a survey of families by the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit that advocates against mass incarceration. … Those fees have come under criticism for being a “kickback” for governments, too. … The controversy over the cost of video visitation calls is part of a larger debate over the high cost of regular telephone calls for inmates. …

FCC made a case for limiting cost of prison phone calls. Not anymore.
Source: Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, February 5, 2017

Federal regulators no longer are pressing to cut the costs of most prison phone calls, backing away from a years-long effort to limit charges imposed by a handful of private companies on inmates and their families. The shift by the Federal Communications Commission comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday considers whether commissioners went too far when they capped prices for inmate calls that had reached more than a $1 per minute. To make phone calls from most federal and state prisons, inmates generally must set up accounts with a private company to hold money deposited by family members. The companies typically have a contract with the prisons, which receive a portion of the call revenue. Federal regulators had pushed since 2013 to lower the costs, saying the prices made it too hard for relatives to stay in touch. But a week after President Trump tapped a new leader for the FCC, the commission’s attorneys changed course and told the court that the FCC no longer would defend one of its own key provisions that limited fees for prisoners’ intrastate calls. … But supporters of the FCC’s limits say the phone contracts are being awarded on the basis of companies’ willingness to pay the highest commissions to prison systems — not on the basis of lowest rates or best service. In 2013, phone-service companies paid at least $460 million in commissions to correctional facilities, according to a brief filed by a coalition of advocates for inmates and their families. A number of state prison systems, including in New York’s, Mississippi’s and New Jersey’s, have taken steps to reduce rates and in some cases to limit commissions. …

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Judge: IBM Owes Indiana $78M For Failed Welfare Automation

Source: Associated Press, August 7, 2017

A judge has ruled that IBM Corp. owes Indiana $78 million in damages stemming from the company’s failed effort to automate much of the state’s welfare services. … Indiana and IBM sued each other in 2010 after then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cancelled the company’s $1.3 billion contract to privatize and automate the processing of Indiana’s welfare applications following numerous complaints. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled last year that IBM breached its contract. The justices affirmed a lower court’s award of nearly $50 million to IBM in state fees, but that ruling allowed Indiana to seek more than $172 million in damages from IBM.

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IBM contests judge’s removal petition in welfare-privatization suit
Source: Dave Stafford, Indiana Lawyer, May 25, 2016

The state’s petition to remove a trial court judge who oversaw the civil lawsuit over the canceled $1.3 billion contract with IBM to overhaul Indiana’s welfare system is “factually incorrect,” according to an attorney representing IBM. Andrew Hull of Hoover Hull Turner LLP said in a statement that Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer did nothing to merit removal and didn’t violate Indiana Trial or Appellate Rules in an order issued on remand from the Indiana Supreme Court, as Barnes & Thornburg LLP lawyers representing the state argued in briefs filed Monday. Their petitions and brief seeking writs from the Supreme Court argue Dreyer overstepped his authority by issuing the order without proceedings, called into question his impartiality in the matter, and asked the court to vacate his order on remand and bar him from issuing further orders in the case.

Indiana Seeks New Judge After No Damages Awarded in IBM Case
Source: Rick Callahan, Associated Press, May 10, 2016

Attorneys for the state are challenging a judge’s decision not to award Indiana damages in its long-running fight with IBM Corp. over the company’s failed effort to privatize state welfare services, saying a new judge should be appointed to handle the case. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in March that IBM had breached its $1.3 billion contract to automate much of Indiana’s welfare system. The high court directed the trial court judge to determine what damages IBM owed the state, opening the door for Indiana to seek up to $175 million. But on Friday, that judge, Marion County Superior Court Judge David Dreyer, ruled that “the costs for which the State seeks reimbursement were not adequately proven, and thus cannot be recovered as damages.” The state’s private attorneys in the case quickly filed a motion seeking a new judge to oversee the case. … The resulting lawsuits between Indiana and IBM were assigned to Dreyer, who found in 2012 that Indiana had failed to prove IBM breached its state contract and awarded the New York-based company about $50 million in state fees. Indiana appealed that ruling, and the state Court of Appeals found in February 2014 that IBM had committed a material breach of its contract by failing to deliver improvements to the state’s welfare system. But it also found IBM was entitled to nearly $50 million in state fees.

Mediation coming in IBM, Indiana contract dispute
Source: Associated Press, December 10, 2014

IBM Corp. and the state of Indiana are turning to mediation in hopes of settling their dispute over IBM’s failed attempt to privatize Indiana’s welfare services. The two parties said in a Monday court filing with the Indiana Supreme Court that they have agreed to mediation and chosen John R. Van Winkle of Indianapolis-based Van Winkle-Baten Dispute Resolution to hear their differences at a Feb. 25 mediation session. The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the welfare-privatization contract dispute on Oct. 30. The following week, Chief Justice Loretta Rush suggested that the parties consider mediation “to seek a mutually agreeable resolution of their dispute.” Rush’s order also said that if mediation failed, the court would move ahead to reach a decision in the long-running dispute.

Appeal of IBM-deal fees heard
Source: Niki Kelly, Journal Gazette, November 26, 2013

The fallout from the failed $1.3 billion IBM welfare modernization contract continued Monday as the Indiana Court of Appeals heard arguments over $100 million in disputed fees. … Attorney Peter Rusthoven, representing the state, said the system was plagued with problems from the outset and IBM refused to hire more people to add to the “human dimension.” …. But attorney Jay Lefkowitz, on behalf of IBM, pointed out that Indiana was trying to hire IBM to run the new hybrid system up until the day the company was terminated.

IBM, state in court Monday
Source: Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star, November 20, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Monday in the legal battle over a $52 million judgment the state has been ordered to pay IBM over the failed attempt to privatize public welfare services under former Gov. Mitch Daniels. …. The state is appealing a Marion Superior Court judge’s 2012 ruling awarding $52 million to IBM after the state canceled a contract Daniels had hailed in 2006 as the solution for fixing one of the nation’s worst welfare systems. …. “Neither party deserves to win this case,” he wrote in his 65-page ruling. “This story represents a ‘perfect storm’ of misguided government policy and overzealous corporate ambition. Overall, both parties are to blame, and Indiana’s taxpayers are left as apparent losers.”

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Part of food stamp website offline for two weeks
Source: Tony Cook, Indianapolis Star, November 6, 2013

Earlier this year, state contractor RCR Technology wrongly released the private information of Indiana welfare recipients. Now, part of the state’s benefits website administered by the company is broken. …. The problems come just four months after revelations that RCR wrongly revealed private data of FSSA clients, including Social Security numbers. … RCR was initially an FSSA subcontractor, but was later elevated to prime contractor after Gov. Mitch Daniels fired IBM over a botched 10-year, $1.37 billion deal to overhaul the state’s welfare system, Gavin said.

Ind. court sets hearing on IBM welfare lawsuit
Source: Associated Press, September 3, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals has set a November hearing in the state’s legal fight with IBM Corp. over a failed attempt to overhaul Indiana’s welfare system. The state is appealing a Marion County judge’s ruling last year awarding $52 million to IBM after then-Gov. Mitch Daniels canceled what was a 10-year, $1.37 billion contract to process applications for food stamps, Medicaid and other programs….

The Unequal State of America: Indiana’s rocky road to welfare reform
Source: David Rohde and Kristina Cooke, Reuters, December 20, 2012

In 2006, Gov. Mitch Daniels privatized the management of the welfare-benefits system with a project led by IBM. Two-thirds of Indiana’s social-service agency’s staffers became employees of IBM and its partners. In a process dubbed “welfare modernization,” recipients would apply for benefits online and by phone rather than meeting social workers face to face. It was, by Daniels’s own admission, a failure…..

JEditorial: Human toll of FSSA deal laid bare
Source: Journal Gazette, July 24, 2012

Editorial: Decision to privatize state welfare system a mistake from start
Source: Evansville Courier & Press, July 22, 2012

Judge denies Indiana claim over failed IBM project
Source: Charles Wilson, Associated Press, July 18, 2012

A judge on Wednesday spurned Indiana’s efforts to recoup roughly $170 million from IBM Corp. over its failed effort to overhaul the state’s welfare system as part of a broader privatization push that was an early hallmark of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ tenure. Marion County Judge David Dreyer said in a 75-page order that neither side deserved to win the dispute, and awarded IBM only a small fraction of what it was seeking. … Dreyer blamed “misguided government policy and overzealous corporate ambition” for the failure of the system, which he called an “untested theoretical experiment.” … Dreyer said Indiana failed to prove that IBM breached its contract, and he denied the state any of the money it sought.

IBM questions Daniels’ resistance to deposition
Source: Carrie Ritchie, IndyStar.com, December 19, 2011

In court, state and IBM spar over welfare system’s design
Source: Carrie Ritchie, Indianapolis Star, March 9, 2012

IBM to begin making case in welfare trial
Source: Indianapolis Star, March 21, 2012

IBM: Indiana canceled deal because of budget woes
Source: Associated Press, April 3, 2012

IBM, state in final arguments at welfare system trial
Source: Carrie Ritchie, Indianapolis Star, April 3, 2012

Judge orders Gov. Daniels be deposed in IBM lawsuits
Source: Carrie Ritchie, IndyStar.com, December 16, 2011

A judge has ordered Gov. Mitch Daniels to share his knowledge of a canceled $1 billion contract with IBM to help resolve a legal battle between the state and the company.

Attorneys for the state had said a law protects Daniels and other high-ranking state officials from testifying….

Is Privatization on Its Way Out?

Source: Donald Cohen, HuffPost, July 27, 2017

According to a new report by the Transnational Institute, cities across Europe are increasingly deciding to reclaim public goods like water, energy, and health care from corporations and private investors. For example, fourteen cities in the Catalonia region of Spain have brought their water under public control in the past two years alone. … As always, the movement is starting at the bottom.  There’s Milford, Connecticut, a small city pushing to purchase its water system after learning that the corporation that owns it plans to raise rates by nearly 30 percent.  There’s New York, which just brought back state workers to provide IT help desk services after concerns about rising costs in a contract with IBM.  There’s Atlantic City, New Jersey, which earlier this month passed an ordinance to ensure residents get to vote on any action by the state to sell or lease the city’s water system.  There’s Baltimore, Maryland, where teachers just recruited hundreds of new public school students after weeks of knocking on doors. And Miami, Florida, where parents and teachers rallied over the weekend to demand more funding for public education and regulation of charter schools.

Read full report.

State workers to return to help desk jobs that had been outsourced

Source: Rick Karlin, Times Union, July 21, 2017
 
Less than a year after it started, the state Office for Information Technology Services is backing away from the outsourcing of its help desk, and will be once again have state workers assume many of those responsibilities. Soon after it began last fall, representatives of numerous state agencies complained they couldn’t get through to the newly privatized help desks, which were based in Buffalo but were backed up in Boulder, Colo. There had also been worries about the cost of the outsourcing. …  The agency said it will continue to work with its main outsourcing contractor, IBM, but state employees will provide on-site assistance at the various state agencies. The process will begin this month in the Capital Region. …

Maryland Judiciary fails to monitor contracts, audit finds

Source: Doug Donovan and Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun, May 10, 2017

Maryland’s court system has failed for years to properly monitor how it spent tens of millions of dollars in contracts and lacked adequate oversight to prove it was getting the most cost-effective deals for taxpayers, a state audit released Friday has found. The Maryland Judiciary lacked “sufficient documentation” to support four contract awards totaling $26 million between July 1, 2012, and Dec. 20, 2015, the audit reported. … Auditors said the judiciary did not provide adequate cost-benefit analyses to support the award of two contracts to existing vendors: a five-year, $21 million contract for Internet services, and a four-year, $2.1 million contract for a digital recording system. In the latter contract, there was a competing bid for almost two-thirds less, $736,000, according to the audit. Additionally, the judiciary didn’t save information about the losing bidders’ proposals for three contracts totaling about $5 million. … The audit also raised concerns about the number of staff allowed to access the purchasing and payment system; the security of its financial management system and database; the processing of traffic citations; and the controls over its equipment and warehouses. … The findings come as the Maryland Judiciary is beginning to prepare a report requested by the Department of Legislative Services to explain “the apparent pattern of overbudgeting” for the state’s Clerks of the Circuit Court offices, according to budget analysis documents. Between 2012 and 2016 the clerks offices were allocated up to 9 percent more than they spent, a surplus that funded other efforts “without the opportunity for the General Assembly to vet those purposes,” according to the legislative services analysis. …