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Bubble-Gum Computers in Washington State DOC

Bubble-gum-and-baling-wire operation....a risk to public safety over the long term. That's how Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, Washington, described the state prisons current computer system.

"Its a disaster. Its been a disaster for a long time", agreed state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina.

Anderson is a former high-tech management consultant and Hunter is a former general manager for Microsoft. Both sit on the Information Services Board which regulates state technology projects. Their critical comments refer to a computer integration attempt that began six years ago.

In 1999 IBM contracted with the Washington DOC to provide a system to more efficiently access information about prisoners and parolees. Offender Management Network Information project (OMNI) was sold to the state by IBM Global Services at a cost of $58 million. It is currently two years behind schedule and $6 million over budget.

Several independent sources have warned state officials that IBM's projections are unrealistic. A report by Coplan and company noted that much of the work [by IBM] was only partially completed, was not completed on time or budget, and was done in a way that DOC should be reluctant to continue. Coplan also pointed out that IBM had already modified the original contract several times costing the state more than $3 million. Yet in December, 2004, the DOC gave IBM another $1 million and simultaneously scaled back the project. Coplans view is that IBM is being rewarded for poor or non-performance. Coplan advised the DOC to terminate its contract with IBM or at least re-evaluate whether the project as a whole is still justifiable.

As recently as March 2005 Sierra Systems, also an independent consultant, noted that "We have seldom seen the level of tension, lack of trust or absence of respect we see exhibited in this project". They also advised prison officials to explore other options.

Jim Walters, Corrections Department project manager, said that IBM oversold the project and Overly aggressive schedules were set.

Hunter went even further saying that DOC officials wanted to get more done than they had time or money for and didnt really manage to project very well. It should have gotten done. he said. It should have gotten to a point where we could deploy it. They slipped.

Clay Helm, spokeswoman for IBM, defended the project by pointing out that phase one was successfully installed and completed two years ago. But earlier this year the system crashed for four days leaving the DOC unable to transport or otherwise generate any information on paroled prisoners. This is disconcerting since the reason for the change was initiated by the states past inability to effectively track parolees with their old computer system. That inability has cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit payouts.

The project was to be implemented in three phases. Phase one is in place but is still problematic. Phase two was scheduled for implementation in June 2005. It is a Web-based program designed to provide easy access to prisoner information using a variety of click messages and menus. It is still not in place. Now state legislators have approved $11.25 million for phase three.

Tom Wallace, senior technology manager for the Information Services Department, said that Governor Christine Gregoire was very specific that the project should be successful, carried forward and implemented.
Corrections officials are predicting project completion by June 2007. Not everyone is so optimistic.

Rep. Anderson says that the new agency director, Harold Clarke, "should be given an opportunity to correct the problems. But, If at that point, they cant do it, yes, we'll probably shut the whole thing down and well have to start from scratch." 

Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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