Deloitte executives appeared before the state legislature’s House Oversight Committee to answer for their disastrous roll out of the new computer system that administers state benefits to the needy on Tuesday night.
One state representative asked what just about everyone in Rhode Island has wondered for the last 2 years. His line of questioning revealed that the company left itself almost no margin for error in rolling out the system.
“How did your quality assurance programs miss such monumental problems with the system” asked Blake Filippi (R-Block Island, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown).
The answer? It’s a very complex system, Deborah Sills, a National Managing Principal at Deloitte, argued.
She struggled to explain why the company failed to create a pilot plan for the system.
“You were aware that the federal government had advised us not to go live?” Filippi asked.
No Room For Error
They were, Sills explained.
“In retrospect it would have been a very good idea to go to pilot and found some of the mistakes that we had later,” Sills finally admitted after persistent questioning by Filippi.
Filippi also asked why the company didn’t have a “rollback” plan in case the system failed, as it did here. In other words, if things started going badly, why not have a way to back out and return to the status quo, Filippi asked.
That would be too difficult, it was explained. Once you begin a new system, there’s no turning back.
So the state had no pilot plan to test the system, nor did it have a rollback plan to address massive deficiencies.
“Have you ever installed a high stakes system for a government where you had no pilot program, where the federal government raised red flags and said don’t go live, and you had no rollback plan,” Filippi asked.
“I can’t answer your question whether we’ve ever done something like this more. I think we probably did (laughs) but that’s not something I can answer,” said Sills.
The meeting was an attempt to have the company to update House of Representatives on the progress of the woeful UHIP systems that caused so many people’s food stamp benefits to be improperly denied. A host of other social services also experienced long backlogs and unfair denials. Payments to nursing homes weren’t being made. Several were on the verge of going bankrupt.
In November of 2016, Governor Gina Raimondo said that she expected the problems to be resolved in one year. That would have been November of last year. The state came to an agreement with Deloitte last year that allowed the state to stop paying the company due to a $57 million credit it received from the company due to all the problems within the computer system.
Representative Joseph Solomon (D-Warwick) asked when the system would finally be working properly and there would be no more backlog.
There was no definitive answer from Kenny Smith, another Principal at Deloitte, in charge of integrated eligibility practice nationally, joined the UHIP Leadership team late last year.
Smith did say the food stamp backlog is currently at a level that is acceptable.
House Oversight Chairwoman Patricia Serpa (D-Warwick, West Warwick, Coventry) asked if perhaps the state was trying to do too much, too quickly, when it launched the system.
“Do you think that this may have been too much integration?” She asked. “Were we biting off more than we could chew?”
Biting Off More Than We Could Chew
Sills said that she didn’t think that was the case and that at the time of the launch, she didn’t think it was the case.
Serpa also asked if the system could be fixed. The question was pertinent given the fact that the Special Master Deming Sherman, appointed to oversee the process, said that the system might not be salvageable.
Smith assured the committee that it could, and was being fixed.
Like Filippi, Representative Jay Edwards wondered why the system wasn’t rolled back when it was showing signs of failure.
“It’s not an easy fallback process for essentially a reverse conversation,” said Kenny Smith, another Principal at Deloitte, in charge of integrated eligibility practice nationally, joined the UHIP Leadership team late last year.
He said that the system would have lost even more information if that were the case.
“Smoke Being Blown”
Representative Patricia Morgan, (Coventry, West Warwick, Warwick) who is running for Governor this year as a Republican, asked why the company moved forward with the program when the previous system was already experiencing difficulties. She pointed out that nursing home eligibility was already being mishandled in the older system.
“If you had all of these problems existing, why did you add a whole chunk of data to it,” said Morgan.
There was no clear answer to that question.
Representative Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) said she was not impressed.
“I do appreciate you being here, but I am not satisfied with no having a lot of the questions that you should be able to answer, not being answered,” said Williams. “I don’t want to feel like smoke is being blown or that questions are being skirted around.”