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Glitchy state software system leads to botched payments for foster care providers

Chris Kanaracus | March 13, 2012
A Tennessee official is blaming inadequate training, ignored warnings and unwise technology choices for ongoing problems with an installed software system used by the state Department of Children's Services.

Other problems cited by Wilson center on core technical decisions made by project staff.

In April 2008, the state signed a contract with Dynamics Research as the project's primary systems integrator, according to the audit. But just a month later, Compuware decided to discontinue OptimalJ, according to the audit.

"Nonetheless, the steering committee, though aware of the problem, chose to allow DRC to proceed using OptimalJ," the report states. "This was a crucial, long-term decision since the software provides tools that allow the programmers to accurately link parts of the program together to execute commands consistently."

"The use of an unsupported development environment increases the risk of operational dysfunction, fraud, waste, and abuse," it adds.

Wilson issued a number of recommendations to DCS officials, including that they review all available documentation and determine whether the TFACTS system "meets the demands that were envisioned at the outset of the project and that were promised by the vendor."

But Wilson, who referred to problems with other state computer systems in recent months, is also calling for an overhaul of the way the state runs future software projects.

"Our primary concern moving forward is not necessarily with the TFACTS system itself, but with the overall approach used for system development and implementation," Wilson said in his letter. The state should adopt a more centralized approval and monitoring process for IT projects, he added. "Lessons learned in past implementation failures should be leveraged to reduce the risk of future failures."

DCS officials issued a response to Wilson's audit, which was appended to the main document.

"The department concurs in part with the Comptroller's Audit findings and recognizes that the TFACTS does have functionality that needs improvement," particularly with regard to financial management, but "the majority" of features outside of that realm are working, the response states.

In addition, many of the pre-launch defects cited by the audit report had been resolved before the full launch, it adds. Project staff have also completed eight builds, fixing some 420 defects, since September, it added.

DCS also defended the decision to use OptimalJ. Tennessee officials are working with peers in Ohio, who used OptimalJ to build a similar system with "no issues," the response added. "DCS has established a strong working relationship to share designs and code from both systems moving forward to reduce the development time to repair / enhance the respective systems."

After learning that OptimalJ was being discontinued, DCS determined that it would cost more to rewrite TFACTS with another tool than to stick with the original plan, DCS said.

"Initial indications are that the OptimalJ tool itself is not deficient, but the deficiency lies in how it was used (or not used in some cases) to develop the TFACTS models and code," according to DCS. "Using a different tool will not overcome the fact that DCS staff does not have the skill sets or experience in developing and maintaining the TFACTS application in a Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) environment."


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