Y2k funds wasted

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Tuesday, November 9

Panel: Y2K funds wasted

By Emmet Meara, Of the NEWS Staff

AUGUSTA  The state wasted close to $2 million to get some of its computer systems ready for the new year, according to members of the Joint Select Committee on the Year 2000 Computer Problem, which met Monday morning.

The state may now be about 95 percent Y2K compliant, but at least $750,000 was spent on one consultant who demonstrated little bang for the buck, said one committee member. The panel also lambasted the Department of Human Services for spending more than $1 million on a computer system that didnt work for the agency.

State agencies have been working to ensure their computer systems wont fail when the new year arrives. The problem is that some computers which read dates as two digits, such as 99 for 1999, will misread 00 in 2000 as 1900, and malfunction.

Committee members took turns blasting the $750,000 contract with Coopers & Lybrand L.L.P. of Portland, which was hired to assist several state agencies in preparing for potential Y2K problems. The expenditure has returned little bang for the buck, said committee chairman Rep. Charles C. LaVerdiere, D-Wilton.

I wouldnt have them back again. Most of us still dont know what they have done, LaVerdiere said. At a presentation to the committee last month, company officials displayed more arrogance than they did information on what they had accomplished, he said.

Committee members who also serve on the Appropriations Committee said they were never consulted about the $750,0000 contract. It is amazing that this much money has been spent without any discussion by the Legislature, said Rep. Richard A. Nass, R-Acton.

If we had shopped around, it would not have been this group that was chosen, said committee member Rosita Gagne, D-Buckfield.

Calls to company spokesman Kevin Baril in New Hampshire were not returned Monday.

The committee also chided the Department of Human Services for spending more than $1 million on a new computer system before abandoning the project. Robert Mayer, information officer of the Bureau of Information Services, told the committee that the DHS decision to buy the new system through CST 2000, a Portland-based firm, was made against his advice. DHS decided on a $2.5 million computer system to modernize the operation of the department, but was forced to abandon the effort after $1 million had been spent.

It was a risky decision, Mayer said. They had a short time to create a new system that was Y2K compliant. After a lot of money was spent, they realized they were not going to make it. It did not pan out. In 20-20 hindsight it was the wrong decision. I consulted with them, but they chose to do something different. Given the time they had it was unlikely that they would be successful. It is a complex system and one of the oldest in the government and rife with 2000 problems. It was a complex, ambitious project.

Rep. Nass called the DHS action outrageous. They bit off more than they could chew. The state would be better served if someone had veto power over large agency purchases, he said.

Reached at his office Monday afternoon, DHS Commissioner Kevin Concannon said his department spent a total of $4 million in state and federal funds to prepare for potential Y2K problems. One $1.8 million contract with CST 2000 was funded with $1.6 million in federal funds and $203,000 in state funds.

He said the contract was intended to update the DHS system which performs about 200,000 transactions per day. The department wanted to replace the basic system before January, but realized after getting started that it couldnt be finished in time, the commissioner said. So then the decision was made to renovate the existing system instead, he said. The renovation has since been completed and inspections by three federal agencies have given the system high marks, he said.

The state did get some benefits for its $203,000 by indexing and inventorying the current system, he said. In fairness, we did change the strategy and decided to go to renovation, Concannon said.

Mayer said some agencies had more problems than others, but that the state is probably 95 percent ready to greet the new year.

A potential computer problem exists in the Department of Public Safety system which supplies criminal and driving records to police in the field. The system is working, but has no backup and will receive close attention over the next couple of months, Mayer said. The department has chosen to wait until after the year 2000 to replace the system. State officials have asked all departments to postpone any computer decisions until after the first of the year, he said.

The Judicial Department declined to return a survey on the Y2K problem because of constitutional issues, Mayer said.

To satisfy a nervous public, an information center will be organized in Augusta on the last weekend of the year, where a press briefing will be held every four hours. Information will be coordinated with county emergency organizations to avoid needless panic, Mayer said. State agencies will be asked to test computers on Saturday, Jan. 1. If there are problems, we will have Saturday and Sunday to fix them, he said.

Notwithstanding a problem when his department issued titles for horseless carriage instead of automobiles, Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky told the committee that his department was ready for the new year.

In the spring, one computer did start reading the year 2000 as the year 1900 and issued a handful of horseless carriage titles to lending institutions who thought it was a lot funnier than we did, Gwadosky said.

Gwadosky said his department had a separate contract for $59,000 with Coopers & Lybrand. The secretary of state said the contract was absolutely worth the money.

During their series of meetings, the committee determined that state agencies operate on a mishmash of incompatible computer systems. The committee will consider legislation to correct the problem during the next session.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 10, 1999


Two months ago we (Maine) spent $750,000 to get an 'oral' report from a group of consultants about our Y2k readiness. It was given to 5-6 politicians and the information re: it's content was never released except to tell us that "maine is in good shape". The citizens accepted it, the press accepted it, the issue is dead.

Now this.....

Long live deception. It works and the sheeple don't give a f**k!

-- Mark from Maine (MarkfromM@ine.net), November 10, 1999.

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