City of Philadelphia Sinks $5.6 Million into Prison Software Upgrade it Can’t Use
by Kevin W. Bliss
The Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) has terminated a contract it established in 2014 with an information technology company, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), to design a new Integrated Jail Management System (IJMS).
After investing $5.6 million of the $7.2 million contract total, PDP decided the software would not serve the necessary functions. Additionally, the city’s Information and Technology Officer, Mark Wheeler, who took office in January 2018, discovered that annual licensing fees for the program would exceed $1 million.
PDP, which has an annual budget of $259 million, has used a system called Lock and Track since 1995 to manage its 5,200 prisoners and 2,300 employees. The system was created by Rick Evans, who ran the company, Lockworks, out of his ranch in Colorado where he also trained horses and gave riding lessons. He was the lone support tech for the entire system.
“If this guy, Rick, gets butted by a goat, they’re done,” said one person familiar with the Lock and Track system, who called PDP’s reliance on the expertise of just one person like Evans “a recipe for disaster.”
PDP first contracted with SAIC to develop a jail software modernization plan for $333,793. That initiative spawned the proposal to upgrade to cloud-based software, running IJMS on a customer-relationship management platform called Salesforce.
Subsequently, SAIC won the bid it had proposed for the integration of IJMS – an arrangement that appeared to give the company an inside track, complained City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.
“It definitely wouldn’t be a best practice to pick the same firm to do the planning work and actually help with vendor selection – and for that firm then to be selected to do the actual project,” she said.
“If that were brought to my office, I would flag that,” agreed Ellen Kaplan, the city’s chief integrity officer.
Abel Eheid, the chief innovation officer under previous Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and now a sustainable-tech consultant for SAIC, said he was puzzled why the company’s software program did not work. He stood by the idea of using Salesforce as IJMS’s platform and argued it was the city’s revolving-door leadership, as well as PDP’s refusal to adapt its policies to the off-the-shelf software, that doomed the project.
Since scrapping IJMS, city officials have paid $425,312 to enhance the existing Lock and Track system, but it still “doesn’t work well enough for them to meet current and future expectations,” Evans admitted.
He now has a $1.2 million annual contract to continue supplying tech support and training for city employees to use Lock and Track. He could not provide a timeline for when the city’s information technology team could become self-sufficient, though his contract only extends through June 30, 2019.
Spokesman Mike Dunn said the city would not be seeking to recoup any of the $5.6 million already paid to SAIC.
“It is a sunk cost,” agreed Wheeler, though he noted that $784,000 in equipment could be repurposed. “The approach we were taking – to customize a jail-management system from a platform that never had a jail-management system on it before – really wasn’t the best approach,” he said.
The IJMS project was one of five major expenditures to modernize city systems undertaken by former Mayor Nutter. All have met with delays, cost overruns or cancellation. $1.6 million was invested in a new budgeting system that was then abandoned, while the city paid $10 million for licensing and inspection software – over twice the original budgeted amount. And a $15 million payroll system has suffered cost overruns of at least $8 million.
Wheeler said the PDP may end up with a rival software package to Salesforce that is more specific for jails, such as Offender360, which is used in San Diego, Chicago and Maricopa County, Arizona. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, recently signed an $11.1 million, 10-year contract with Offender360’s developer, Tribridge.
“Ultimately we will go out for another RFP [Request for Proposal],” Wheeler said. “Because we’ve upgraded Lock and Track, we feel we have another few years of that.”
In 2005, a federal government audit concluded that SAIC had developed a software system for the FBI that was unusable. Then-FBI director Robert F. Mueller scrapped the project, but not before SAIC had spent four years developing it, raking in over $100 million in fees for its efforts. In testimony before Congress, Mueller faulted the company, whose executive vice president, Arnold Punaro, told lawmakers the failure was due to the FBI’s personnel turnover as well as the agency’s “we’ll know it when we see it” design approach.
Sources: www.philly.com, Washington Post
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