Reporter goes to work on troubled state welfare computer : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Today: January 19, 2000 at 12:16:09 PST

Reporter goes to work on troubled state welfare computer

By Geoff Dornan Nevada Appeal

CARSON CITY, Nev. - It happened in a flash - a bump of a finger against the wrong key, and NOMADS froze. My only option was to exit from the problem-plagued welfare computer program - losing data I had just taken 20 minutes to enter.

That was my welcome to the Nevada Operations Multi-Automated Data system, started in 1989 with a cost estimate of $23 million. Its $126 million cost in state and federal dollars by the end of 2000 makes it the most expensive project in Nevada state government history.

The "Legacy" program that predated NOMADS, used in one form or another by most Nevada counties, took just a couple of hours instruction before I was pumping out case closures for Washoe County's family support division.

But after a week on NOMADS, I still needed extensive notes and a "trainer" at my shoulder to work through a case - in a system that doesn't tell you where to go next or whether you've made some critical error.

The problems with NOMADS start with the fact that it isn't a Windows-based system. The program greets users with a screen that has 25 options presented as cryptic acronyms like APEN, CPRO or JURD.

There are no buttons to click on, like the programs most computer users are accustomed to. Instead, you TAB down to the appropriate function, enter an "X" on the line and hit ENTER.

In most cases, that gets you another screen covered with a dozen or more new acronyms to choose from.

Any misstep, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong, forcing the worker to backtrack. In many instances, there's no other solution than to start over.

"NOMADS is archaic," adds Washoe District Attorney Dick Gammick. "It's an old, old language." But officials must get the system to work well enough to get certified by next October - or face big federal penalties.

"NOMADS is a system built for idiots," adds Gammick. "It's built to do all the thinking for everybody. In fact, it's so rigid we can't change words in a document."

Some errors - such as misspelling a father's name - can't just be corrected. The correction creates a "pseudo" name or "alias." That makes it difficult to find the father again later, since he's listed under the incorrectly spelled name.

Other typing mistakes get the operator "bing-bonged" - an alarm noise the computer makes when rejecting input - and dumped out of the program.

NOMADS gives almost no help in navigating through it, making it "a maze of booby traps for the caseworker," one Washoe County family support worker says.

Caseworkers in Washoe and Douglas, the two counties with the most experience, also say there's often no warning in NOMADS that you've done anything wrong. You may not know of an error until the program automatically stops a check from going out on time.

For months, the biggest county complaint was that it took upwards of 40 seconds for NOMADS to move from one screen to another. During peak periods, the wait sometimes hit two full minutes, guaranteeing hours of wasted time trying to input or manage cases in NOMADS.

Throughout the past year, the state consistently denied that was a problem. But, in a recent interview, officials announced that the problem now has been fixed.

"We've been maintaining sub-second response time for three weeks now," says state Welfare Director Myla Florence.

Not true: this reporter was working cases on the system during that period and response times were in the 20- to 30-second range.

Florence also says the system is working despite what the counties say, and the problems they complain about will be fixed.

She also says counties have been involved from the start, and it's a bit late to be arguing against a system they helped develop.

The biggest complaints by caseworkers involve the way NOMADS holds up checks.

"Child support has to do two things: go to court and disperse money. NOMADS wasn't designed to do either," says Annette Mansfield, who represents Washoe County in dealing with the program.

Florence correctly points out that the system is generally accurate when it says something is wrong. But Gammick and Brian Chally, chief civil deputy district attorney for Douglas County, point out that a single mother can't always get the money she's entitled to get.

Gammick said the state had more than $300,000 tied up for a month's time - money that should be going out to single moms - because the system kept holding up checks.

Other problems include mandatory labeling of a child whose parents weren't married as a "BOW" - born out of wedlock. Activists fought for years to convince states to stop such labeling, but NOMADS reinstates the practice.

But there's no code to identify someone as an ex-husband, ex-wife, boyfriend or girlfriend - four labels that identify nearly everyone involved in a case.

In a couple of places, the name of a judge handling a case must be entered. But the list names all lawyers - not just the judges - in the state and is sorted alphabetically by first name, not last.

-- Homer Beanfang (, January 19, 2000


--no problem, get rid of welfare, advertise a two year window to get out, don't do it anymore, unplug buggy system and donate it to--who knows, some place we don't like very much. Save taxpayers mucho dineros. Put money into education and how stoopid it is to have out of wedlock kids with no stable working father, etc. Over simplistic, lot of additional factors to welfare system, but reality must be faced, the US is still the US, folks risk their lives just to come here for the still existant opportunities. Not all by any means, but I used to do contract remodeling section 8 housing. GIMME A BREAK ON WELFARE. Geez, the stories...there's such a thing as giving honest folks a hand in emergencies, once it gets to be three generations it's time to rethink that whole scheme.

Goes for corporate welfare, too. "Deducting" yachts and trips and parties, etc...GIMME A BREAK PART DEUX

-- zog (, January 19, 2000.

Zog, welfare is here to stay in some form or another, because it is the vote machine for the democratic party (republican for the yacht types), the politicians don't care about the damage to the social fabric, or the moral implications of three generations of dependency. Repeat: They don't care. Certain groups of people were slaves, oppressed workers, immigrants or what have you in the distant past, so the politicians say 'You are ENTITLED to this because our ancestors trweated your ancestors badly, and I the great (fill in name) have brought you the goodies' and so it goes from generation to generation. THe so called reform that has happened under Clinton was forced on him nearly at gunpoint, and guess what, it WORKED so now he's trying to claim it as his legacy!

But the chicken is coming home to roost in Social Security, because the numbers don't add up, won't add up, can't add up. Too many boomers, too few Xers, politics of any stripe never change math. SO the can gets kicked down the road, and SS has to be 'saved' every five years or so. Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton have all 'saved' social security temporarily until they leave office, then the next guy finds out that the numbers don't add up, won't, can't, aint gonna. So don't fret, Zog, the welfare state will soon enough run out of creative long division, benefits will be means tested, and even then be so small as to be a joke. Unless, of course, the politicians think that the younger generation will tolerate 80% income tax rates to support it. But don't think the politicians will end it, even then. Not as long as there is a vote to be had.

-- Forrest Covington (, January 19, 2000.

So tell me Forest. What do you purpose? By the way. Did you ever live in a small town along the Columbia and Lewis River?

-- John Q (, January 19, 2000.

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