The Whoops! Files: Local Government

Government officials have their share of information-system hang-ups- even at the local level. Check out this Baseline close-up of some recent snafus.

Although the federal governments information-system miscues get a lot of attention, there are plenty of local- and regional-level snafus. Heres a sampling of a few recent projects that have run aground.

Bexars Bear of a Project San Antonios Bexar County (pronounced "bear") is feeling the hard edge of a recent SAP installation. The $4 million initiative, dubbed CHRIS (County Human Resource Information System), was installed by Baltimore-based Cedar Enterprise Solutions Inc. and was supposed to track the compensation, vacation and sick days of the Texas countys 4,500-plus employees.

Last year, Bexar officials discovered CHRIS was arbitrarily adding and subtracting leave time from employee records. The flaws were so large that many county offices reverted to and are still using their old systems. County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff is not happy and is demanding accountability.

"What wed like to do here is develop baseline measurements for success: Did we get what we paid for? Did we get the full measure?" he says. "Those are the questions that remain provocative here."

Back To School
In August of 2003, it looked like an Oracle software bug was going to hold up Baltimore City Public School Systems (BCPSS) deployment of its $16 million Human Resources Management System. Initially scheduled to be deployed the previous month, the software would finally give BCPSS centralized control over its finances.

Payroll and other functions previously had been outsourced to municipal services, and a delay in the switchover threatened to cost the school system a half-million dollars a month-including the $69,000 a month it was still paying the city. With the payroll system still outsourced and not linked with BCPSSs budgeting system, school officials were forced to use average teacher salaries to budget for the 2004 fiscal year instead of actual payroll numbers.

According to Vanessa Pyatt, spokesperson for BCPSS, the system is in pilot now and will go fully online in May. The delay actually ended up saving the school system money on the Oracle implementation because it allowed BCPSSs technology staff to learn the software, deploy the system internally and drop the consultants it had hired.

Nevertheless, the savings of a few thousand dollars are a drop in the bucket compared to the school systems recently disclosed $58 million deficit, which in part can be blamed on the old financial systems that the Oracle applications will replace.

Next Page: Power project short-circuits. Power Project Short-Circuits
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which supplies electricity in the northwest United States, has sunk $25 million into a software project to automate part of its energy-transmission system-and to finish the job, the Portland, Ore.-based agency may eventually spend nearly three times the amount it originally expected.

One of its major mistakes: The BPAs sales-and-marketing department was initially in charge of the software deployment, and the project team didnt adequately define the systems requirements.

"Project management personnel did not have sufficient information technology management or experience," the U.S. Department of Energy said in a February 2003 audit report. A BPA spokesman says the agency has since transferred responsibility for the project, which is now four years behind schedule, to an "experienced information-technology manager" and expects it to be completed in early 2005.

—Additional reporting by Sean Gallagher and Todd Spangler