Wisconsin systems come in late, over budget

Wisconsin systems come in late, over budget

BY WILSON P. DIZARD III | GCN STAFF

Six of seven major information technology projects in Wisconsin are over budget, behind schedule or faulty, according to a review by the state Legislative Audit Bureau.

The audit bureau also questioned the state's use of consultants, after finding that many of them cost more to employ than comparable state workers. In several cases, state employees quit and then returned to their agencies as consultants earning two to three times their state salaries.

The Wisconsin Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System was originally scheduled to be completed this year at a cost of $53.8 million, but it has been delayed to 2004 and likely will cost $78.9 million, the bureau said. Costs for a centralized human resources system for state employees ballooned from $965,000 to $5 million, according to the bureau's report, State Agency Use of Computer Consultants.

Wisconsin's Kids Information Data System for managing child support payments was completed two years late at a cost of $51.4 million, $28.5 million over budget, the bureau found. The state declared KIDS complete in 1997, even though it had only 37 of the 91 features originally planned.

High-priced help

Wisconsin has been paying consultants up to $195 per hour, the report said. In a sample of 32 hourly contractors who did the same type of work as state employees, 29 of the contractors were being paid more than state employees, the bureau found.

State officials told the audit team that the state hired contractors largely because of the tight labor market for IT professionals and restrictions on the number of systems specialists they could hire.

The audit recommended that agencies reassess their use of contract consultants 'in light of changes in the job market and the improved ability of the state to compete for and retain IT employees.'

The bureau also called for the use of best practices to increase the likelihood of project success, including methods for deciding whether to use fixed-price or hourly contracts, ways to specify desired products and steps to validate vendors' project management skills.

In response to the report, secretary of Administration George Lightbourn proposed employee training and reforms to improve project management.

He also endorsed the creation of an Electronic-Government Department to be led by a statewide chief information officer.

On the rise

Wisconsin issued purchase orders for IT goods and services totaling about $320.5 million in fiscal 1999. In the five-year period ending that year, IT orders increased 139.2 percent, the report noted.

Wisconsin executive branch agencies spent $93.6 million on IT consulting services in fiscal 1999. The expenditures supplemented the work of 1,383 state IT employees, who earned salaries and fringe benefits amounting to $87.8 million that year.

The report is available on the Web at www.legis.state.wi.us/lab/Reports/01-6tear.htm.

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