Company quits Texas Foster Care Redesign project

Another Texas privatization project has failed to produce the results touted by free market boosters and private contractors.

Providence Service Corporation, a self-described “national leader in the management and provision of the highest-quality human social service,” announced on August 1 that it was quitting its job as manager of the Foster Care Redesign project in West Texas.

Providence CEO Mike Fidgen said that the company was quitting because the redesign program needed to be “more adequately funded.”

To put it less delicately, Providence quit because it couldn’t make enough money.

Texas lawmakers in 2011 authorized Foster Care Redesign under the assumption that private companies like Providence could improve the state’s troubled foster care program and lower costs.

Providence was the West Texas Single Source Continuum Contractor that was to oversee and coordinate services among private foster care placement agencies in West Texas, an expansive region that covers 60 counties. The region is mostly rural but includes some mid-sized cities such as Abilene, Midland, Odessa, San Angelo, and Wichita Falls.

Providence in 2013 signed a five-year, $30 million contract to manage the region’s Foster Care Redesign. Fifteen months into the project, DFPS has already paid Providence $8.3 million. According to Myko Gedutis, assistant organizing coordinator for the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU), Providence is already $2 million over budget.

“The news (that Providence is quitting because of the lack of funding) confirms it’s time to stop expanding privatization and start adequately funding child protection,” said Ashley Harris a policy expert for Texans Care for Children, a child welfare advocacy group. “(The state needs to begin) reducing caseloads for overwhelmed (Child Protective Services) staff and establishing basic safety and training standards for foster parents.”

Prior to Province’s withdrawal, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), which oversees state child protective services, notified Providence that its shortcomings that needed to be corrected.

According to a media statement issued by DFPS, the company

  • Missed performance goals such as keeping siblings together and placing children close to home,
  • Failed to develop staff and an adequate network of foster care providers, and
  • Was unable “to develop a full array of service to better serve children.”

“Providence walking away from the contract after one year clearly answers the question about whether a for-profit agency can provide quality services with the same inadequate funding provided by the Legislature,” said Gedutis. “Providence’s attempt at placing children closer to their own communities, and improving outcomes and services, all with the same inadequate budget, didn’t work.”

Members of TSEU who work for DFPS have for some time tried to convince lawmakers that there are no shortcuts to providing quality care for abused children.

And in Texas, the problem of child abuse is critical. Between 2008 and 2012, 237 children a year died from abuse or neglect, nearly 100 more than in California (148) and nearly 140 more than in New York (99).

During state fiscal year 2013, eight children died in foster care.

But state leaders have chosen to address this crisis on the cheap.

For example, lawmakers have failed to provide funding to keep child protective caseloads manageable. The national standard for child protective caseloads is 17 cases per worker. The average Texas caseload is 28.

State caseworker pay is also low. According to the State Auditor’s Office, the average base pay for a state child protective caseworker, a job that requires a four-year bachelors degree, ranges  from $34,656 a year to $40,560 a year.

Low pay and high caseloads have led to a high turnover rate. The State Auditor reports that the DFPS caseworker turnover rate for 2012 was 26.1 percent. The high turnover rate affects the quality of work.

Instead of addressing these funding problems, the state has turned to private agencies to deal with the child abuse crisis.

In the last decade, the number of private agencies providing foster care services has increased to 350. Some of these agencies are run by for-profit companies and some by non-profit companies.

Whatever their status, generating revenue remains their main focus, said TSEU member Erica Harris to special legislative committee hearing in April. The focus on revenue causes many private agencies to cut corners.

Harris, a caseworker who worked for a private agency and now works for DFPS, told lawmakers that she was troubled and eventually quit after she learned that her private agency allowed unqualified people to serve as foster parents, doctored paperwork to make it look as if they were meeting goals, inadequately trained foster parents, and did not properly supervise foster parents.

“The root of many of these problems with the private agency stemmed from the agency being responsible for maintaining a foster care system while having to watch their own bottom line,” said Harris in her testimony.

While Providence’s failure to remain on the job is a setback for the privatization of foster care, it also is another in a growing list of Texas privatization initiatives that failed to meet expectations, including:

  • An $899 million contract with Accenture to privatize state health and human services, which was canceled in 2007,
  • An $863 million contract with IBM to consolidate state agency data centers, which was canceled in 2010,
  • A $210 contract with Accenture to update the state’s child support computer system, whose cost increased by $64 million after the company failed to meet the original deadline for implementation, and
  • A multi-million Medicaid claims contract with Xerox, which was canceled in May after Xerox, “allegedly erroneously doled out for medically unnecessary Medicaid claims,” reports the Texas Tribune. Xerox’s error cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gedutis said that foster care in Texas needs to be redesigned, but, like the other failed privatization efforts, the failure of Providence to complete its job shows that privatization is not the way to improve state services.

“Instead of contracting with more private agencies and getting the same results, efforts to improve the foster care system need to address inadequate funding, accountability, oversight of private agencies, and dangerously high caseloads,” said Gedutis. “TSEU members will continue to fight to improve our agency and the services we provide to vulnerable Texans, and to oppose privatization experiments that continue to fail.”

UT cuts ties to Accenture after coalition’s organizing and mobilizing efforts; AG ups the ante on his Accenture contract

As a result of pressure from the University of Texas Save Our Community Coalition, the UT administration announced that it will be  scaling down its Shared Services project and cutting ties with Accenture, the global consulting firm that designed Shared Services.

Accenture’s plan would have eliminated 500 jobs.

In addition to cutting staff, Accenture’s plan would have funneled many requests for administrative services to a centralized call center, reducing direct contact between staff and those they serve.

The cost of implementing Shared Services would have been at least $54 million, and as the Save Our Community Coalition has demonstrated, Accenture overestimated the savings that its plan would generate.

In a related development, the Associated Press reports that another Accenture project with a Texas government agency is $64 million over budget and is in danger of not being completed on time.

At UT, the Save Our Community Coalition, a broad-based campus coalition organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU), waged a 14-month long campaign aimed saving the 500 jobs slated for elimination.

The campaign included mobilizations, building a wide base of opposition to Shared Services, and confronting the administration about inconsistencies and errors in the Shared Services plan whenever possible.

At an April 23 rally, one of several rallies against Shared Services held on campus, students, faculty, and staff spoke out against Shared Services. The rally was held on the steps of the offices occupied by top UT executives.

After the rally, students walked to the office of UT President William Powers and asked to speak to him about their concerns about Shared Services.

When he refused, the students conducted a peaceful sit-in at his office, and 18 were arrested.

The announcement that UT was cutting its ties to Accenture and scaling back its Shared Services plan came about two weeks after the rally and the arrests.

In addition to the rallies, the members of the coalition succeeded in getting 100 faculty members to sign a letter to Powers expressing their opposition to Shared Services. Members of the coalition also got the Graduate Student Assembly to pass a resolution opposing implementation.

While Shared Services has been scaled back, it has not been eliminated.

UT will pilot Shared Services in the Provost’s Office and the College of Education.

After the results of the pilot have been assessed, UT will decide whether it will expand Shared Services.

Save Our Community wants to make sure that the assessment is fair and called on the administration to involve staff affected by the outcome in the planning process. It also wants qualified experts to create the metrics that will be used to evaluate results and mutually agreed on benchmarks that the pilots must meet in order to continue.

A bigger concern of the coalition is the way that UT’s search for cost savings is always limited to measures that result in layoffs, pay freezes, or benefits cuts for employees.

“The UT administration tells us we need to save money by laying off staff and eliminating positions, yet all around me I see UT expanding and investing in new construction projects,” said Sarahi Soto-Talavera, a UT student and TSEU member. “We need to stop balancing the budget on the backs of staff, and start prioritizing the people who make our campus run.”

Not far from the UT campus is the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who agreed to a $210 contract with Accenture to design a new computer system for his Child Support Division.

In 2011, the State Auditor’s Office issued a report saying that the new computer system known as TXCSES 2.0, or T2, would be implemented in three phases. Full implementation would be complete by 2017. The first phase was on track to be completed by October 2013.

But more than six months after its scheduled implementation, the first phase has yet to be completed.

The Associated Press reports that earlier this year, a report by UT faculty members hired to monitor the project said that the T2 completion date was overly optimistic. According to the AP, it also “raised warning about substandard work that could escalate costs down the road.”

To address this problem Abbott agreed to a contract amendment that raised the cost of the project by $64 million.

UT rallies against Shared Services; 18 arrested

At an April 23 rally, employees, faculty, and students at the University of Texas at Austin slammed a business consultant’s proposal to centralize, privatize, and eliminate staff jobs at UT and called the job-cutting proposal an attack on the whole UT community.

After the rally, students went to the office of UT President William Powers to meet with him and express their concerns about the consultant’s proposal. Instead of meeting with the students, Powers had 18 of them arrested.

In 2012, UT administrators hired Accenture, a global consulting firm based in Ireland, to develop plans for making UT operate more like a business.

Accenture in 2013 produced a long-term plan that would restructure the way that UT provides administrative and other services.

The initial phase of Accenture’s plan, called Shared Services, centralizes administrative services at call centers and eliminates at least 500 jobs.

Austin City Council member Mike Martinez was one of the speakers opposing Accenture’s Shared Services plan.

“I’m proud to voice my opposition to what I see as a dangerous, slippery slope that we’re heading toward with Shared Services,” said Martinez, who said that he would ask other City Council members to join him in opposing the plan.

Because of the fight waged against Shared Services by the UT Save Our Community Coalition, which organized the rally, UT’s executive leadership has backtracked on its implementation plan.

Now, the administration is saying that Shared Services will be implemented on a pilot basis and that full implementation will come only after the results of these pilot programs have been analyzed.

The McCombs School of Business is one department that for two years has implemented the centralization principles of Shared Services.

Roanna Flowers, a staff member at the School of Business, described how Shared Services works in practice.

“I can tell you what it’s resulted in,” said Flowers, a member of the Texas State Employees Union CWA 6186, the UT workers’ union. “Poor working conditions, a loss of community, bottlenecks, higher costs, and extremely low morale.”

UT’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty has said that the Shared Services job cuts will come about through attrition and that no one will lose their job.

But the College of Liberal Arts after consulting with Accenture’s Shared Services Steering Committee, centralized its business services office.

As a result, Victoria Vlatch, a course scheduler, lost her job.

Speaking at the rally, Vlatch, a TSEU member, said that when UT starts acting like a business, it devalues the work that she and others do.

“Faculty and staff members are no longer seen as assets essential to the mission of the university,” said Vlatch. “We become instead expenses.”

President Powers argues that eliminating jobs is necessary because state funding for UT has not kept up with growth causing budget shortfalls.

But Adam Tallman, a member of the Graduate Student Workers Union TSEU, told the audience that UT executives’ salaries are partially responsible for the shortfall.

“Why are we broke?” asked Tallman. “There’s another interesting dynamic going on here. In 2008, the overall salary of administrators making $200,000 or more a year was $18 million. Guess what it is now–$44 million.

“As a percentage of state appropriations, the top administrators’ salaries went from 4 percent (in 2008) to what it is now, which is 14 percent.”

In a recent letter to authors of a faculty letter urging Powers to reconsider the Shared Services plan, Powers said that the challenges facing UT require it to become more efficient.

But at the rally, Dr. Mia Carter, a professor in the English Department and one of the authors of the faculty letter, asked, “Why does the zeal for efficiency and restructuring start at the expense of the staff?”

Carter said that the faculty letter to Powers offers a better solution for dealing with the challenges facing UT.

“What makes a public university great? What sustains its values? . . . Who and what are worth paying for and investing in?” asked Carter. “The faculty letter expressed the hope we will collectively ask these questions for they concern us all and are inseparable from discussions about the quality and value of public education.”

If the administration was really concerned about efficiencies, said Bert Herigstad, office manager in the Radio Television Film Department and winner of UT’s 2011 Outstanding Staff Award,  “one of the first things (they) can do is ask the staff, what are your ideas to improve efficiency,” but the administration has failed to do so.

The Save Our Community Coalition has emphasized that the staff job cuts proposed by Shared Services are an attack not only against staff but to the whole community.

Tarel Patel, a UT Student Government representative, explained why standing up for the UT community is important to him.

“When we’re asked to stand to fight for our community, we stand together; when we’re asked to stand together to save jobs, we stand together; and when we’re fighting for our education and our community, we continue to stand together. That’s inspiring to me and future generations of students who will be coming to UT.”

After the rally, a group of students went to the UT Tower, the administration building overlooking the campus, and asked to meet with Powers to explain their opposition to Shared Services.

“We are here to have our voices heard, and they are not being heard by this university so we took our voices to the Tower,” said Sophia Portier, a UT student to KVUE television.

Instead of meeting with the students, Powers stayed in his office.

The students responed with a peaceful sit-in.

The campus police were subsequently called in and arrested those participating in the protest.

After the arrests, UT professor Snehal Shingavi posted on his blog an open letter of support for those arrested and urged faculty members to sign it.

The letter concludes:

We think that it is time for this pattern of responding to protest with police to stop in favor of a policy of active engagement with student concerns. We encourage the University of Texas and the Travis County Attorney to drop the charges against the students arrested yesterday. We encourage the University to revise its policies in dealing with student protesters. But most importantly, we encourage the University of Texas to rethink its commitment to the staff who work tirelessly to make UT Austin the flagship university of Texas and to reconsider its implementation of Shared Services.

Faculty letter urges UT president to value staff and halt centralization and job cuts

Representatives of a more than 100 professors and lecturers at the University of Texas at Austin hand delivered a letter to UT President William Powers expressing their opposition to a proposed Business Productivity Initiative drafted for UT by Accenture, a global consulting corporation.

The first stage of Accenture’s Business Productivity Initiative called shared services would centralize administrative services and eliminate 500 jobs.

Accenture, which is based in Ireland for tax purposes, has drafted plans similar to its UT shared services plan for other universities.

The administration at the University of Michigan recently shelved an Accenture generated centralization plan similar to its UT shared services plan after faculty member vociferously opposed the plan.

A source who has seen the letter to President Powers, said that it was signed by 117 UT faculty members.

In it, the faculty members express support for administrative staffers and concern that Accenture’s plan is another step toward the privatization and corporatization of public higher education.

Chief among the concerns raised by the faculty in their letter is the fact that UT has already squandered $4 million in payments to Accenture to market a faulty centralization plan whose concept and design are based on inaccurate information.

That $4 million, write the faculty, could have been better spent on the core mission of the university.

According to the faculty who signed the letter, administrative staff are essential to the university’s core mission–to educate the public and expand the boundaries of public knowledge. It takes a community to carry out this core mission, and staff members are a vital part of this community.

By centralizing administrative services at call centers says the letter, Accenture’s shared services plan will interrupt the bonds among students, faculty, and staff that create this community.

“A direct relationship between faculty and students and staff helps make teaching and research more productive,” said the source who wished to remain unidentified for fear of retaliation. “Anything that interferes with this bond will cause problems. There’s nothing more frustrating and time-wasting than being put on hold by a call center when you’re trying to solve a problem or request a service.”

The source also said that instead of eliminating 500 position as has been proposed by Accenture, UT needs to hire more administrative staff to keep up with a rapidly increasing workload.

Those who signed the letter also expressed concern that Accenture’s Business Productivity Initiative, which calls for more privatization of services at UT, is yet another attempt by the private sector to turn a public institution into a vehicle for generating profits for well-connected corporations–corporations like Accenture.

Turning public institutions into private revenue streams undermines the democratic nature of public institutions like UT and erodes the common good that they produce.

The letter was authored by Mia Carter, associate professor of English, Julius G. Getman, UT Law professor, and Anne Lewis, lecturer in the Radio-Television-Film Department.

All are members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186. Lewis is a TSEU executive board member.

Among those who signed the letter, there are 15 directors of special academic programs, 11 teaching excellence award winners, and one department chair.

In a related development, the UT Save Our Community Coalition has been gathering signatures on a petition opposing Accenture’s plans to restructure services at UT and the corporation’s involvement with UT.

The coalition will hold a rally on Wednesday April 23 at noon on the South Mall and then present the petitions to the administration.

State workers: Keep health and human services accessible

State employees in Missouri and Texas are building movements to protect health and human services and keep them accessible.

In Missouri, the Missouri State Workers Union CWA 6355 (MSWU) is building a Turn the Tide movement that includes Family Support Division union members and the people they serve to protect access to health and human services in the state.

In Texas, members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA 6186 have started a petition drive calling for more staffing at health and human service eligibility offices to keep pace with increased caseload. The petition also calls for a pay raise that would help retain qualified staff, the key to ensuring that applications for services are processed quickly and accurately.

Missouri has developed a plan for reorganizing the application process for health and human services such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The plan, whose implementation began in July, will take years to implement fully, but the impact on people who depend on these services is already being felt.

The St Louis Post Dispatch reports that since implementation began in July, the state’s food stamp enrollment has dropped by 3.3 percent, one of the largest drops in food stamp enrollment in the US.

The Post Dispatch also reports that one of the main reasons for the drop in enrollment is the increase in the number of denials, many of which are caused by a problem with the reorganization plan.

The reorganization plan will eventually do away with local Family Support Division (FSD) offices where people meet face to face with a knowledgeable caseworker who can assist the applicant with the complicated application. At the face to face meeting, the worker can explain the application process and tell the applicant what documents are needed to complete the process.

Where the reorganization plan has been implemented, applicants are left on their own to complete the application. After completing the application, the applicant submits it to a centralized processing center and is told to wait for a follow up call.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Kyonna Belton, a food stamp applicant to the Post Dispatch . “They say to fill out your piece of paper and leave and they’ll call you. Then you get this (notice), saying you missed something you don’t know about.”

At a community meeting in Overland, Missouri, Holly Roe, an FSD caseworker described the impact that the reorganization is having on her clients.

“What we’re seeing is an atrocity, she said as reported by the Post Dispatch. “It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

Roe said that the reorganization has been especially hard on disabled people and the elderly.

The community meeting, which was organized by Jobs with Justice and the Missouri State Workers Union, was attended by FSD employees, health and human service recipients, and social welfare activists.

MSWU Turn the Tide movement had some successes. By mobilizing workers and the people they serve, the union has gotten FSD to start holding public hearings on the reorganization plan and to open discussions with union representatives on the plan.

Before, FSD had said that the reorganization plan was  a done deal and that there would be no discussions with workers and no chance for the public to give input.

FSD has also been forced to move back some of its more aggressive implementation deadlines.

In Texas, employees at the Health and Human Service Commission (HHSC) who process applications for health and human services have seen a surge in case work.

Last year, the state canceled a Children’s Health Insurance Program contract with Maximus and turned the work over to state employees.

By canceling the contract, the state saved $315 million but didn’t use any of that money to increase staffing to handle the increase in work.

Not only do HHSC workers have to process more case, but they have to correct errors on thousands of cases received from Maximus.

To make matters worse, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of cases that must be reviewed for Medicaid eligibility.

The result is a backlog of  114,000 cases–that’s 114,000 people whose access to vital health services has been delayed.

The petition drive is aimed at forcing HHSC leadership and the Legislature to fund more positions and to provide raises that keep highly qualified workers on the job.

TSEU organizers will have copies of the petition when they visit HHSC eligibility offices. The union is asking members to take copies of the petition and get fellow workers to sign it.

The petition drive will also be an opportunity for union members to talk to non-members about why they should join the union.

Shared Services at UT: Disconnect between assurances and reality

The administration at the University of Texas at Austin on November 15 held a public relations event on campus to hear concerns about the proposed Shared Services plan that if adopted would consolidate administrative services and eliminate 500 jobs at the university.

The questions that people asked expressed a deep sense of anxiety about the changes that the administration is proposing.

UT’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty did his best to allay fears about Shared Services, one piece of a larger transformation project aimed at making UT operate more like a business.

Details of the transformation project were made public in January when a committee of 13 private business executives appointed by UT President William Powers issued a report entitled Smarter Systems for a Greater UT.

Among other things, Smarter Systems called for UT to privatize and consolidate a wide range of services provided by UT staff.

Just prior to the November 15 event, Hegarty took another step to tamp down fears about the overall transformation project and Shared Services by announcing that for the time being UT would not be privatizing student food services or raising student fees, which had been recommended by the Smarter Systems authors.

The Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 called the announcement a “huge victory.”

The union and its partners from the Save Our Community Coalition have been organizing and mobilizing students and staff to protect UT, one of the state’s most valuable public assets, from private encroachment.

In a message to members, the union said that the victory was the result of ten months of organizing and mobilizing at UT.

The union also warned that the threat of privatization and downsizing isn’t over and cited the Shared Services plan, which would consolidate IT, human resources, and financial services through the implementation of a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

During the recent Shared Services public relations event, Hegarty responded to pre-screened written questions.

Among other things, people wanted to know if Shared Services would cause their jobs to be deskilled and their pay cut, if UT would give them sufficient warning in the event of layoffs, if their jobs would be privatized, if there would be more than 500 jobs eliminated; and if Shared Services would break down well established relationships between faculty, students and the administrative staff who serve them.

People also wanted to know what metrics would be used to evaluate Shared Services pilot projects on campus.

Hegarty replied that jobs would not be deskilled; that new career paths would be opened that could improve pay; that probably nobody would lose their jobs because the cuts would be accomplished through attrition; that no current jobs would be outsourced; that Shared Services would strengthen relationships between all members of the UT community; and that proper metrics would be developed when Shared Services was piloted.

Hegarty, dressed casually in jeans and a burnt orange sport shirt, set a reassuring tone.

But there was a disconnect between Hegarty’s reassurances and the realities of Shared Services.

Hegarty said that Shared Services has been implemented at other universities and that people were pleased with the results.

But the Yale Daily News in 2012 reported that faculty members unhappy with Yale’s Shared Service project said that it “does not meet the needs of individual departments.”

The paper quoted Shauna King, Yale’s vice president for finance and business operations, as saying that faculty had protested “most strongly” the fact that Shared Services caused “the reductions in and restructuring of departmental staff over the past few years.”

Yale began implementing Shared Services in 2010.

The Michigan Daily News more recently reported that 16 department heads in a letter to UM’s Provost said that UM’s version of Shared Services lacked transparency and accountability.

They were especially concerned that “faculty and staff will  have to reapply for their positions.”

The Daily News went on to report that the department heads questioned “the validity of the (Shared Services) campaign, citing similar efforts at
other institutions — including Yale University and University of California, Berkeley — that didn’t yield desired results.”

Hegarty said that Shared Services is the best and least painful alternative for cutting costs at UT.

But Dr. Alberto Martinez, a UT history professor, asked during the 15-minute live audience question period, if the projected Shared Services savings were realistic.

In a recent op-ed piece in the Daily Texan, Martinez said that to achieve the projected savings, 433 jobs will have to be eliminated by December 2014 and even more in subsequent years.

Martinez also wrote that the oft cited Shared Services implementation cost of $160 million to $180 million is too low. “The online plan ‘for campus discussion’ includes a cash flow graph that specifies that Shared Services and the ERP will cost even more: $213.5 million,” said Martinez.

Hegarty said that everything is being done to make the decision on whether to adopt Shared Services as transparent as possible.

But during the brief live question period that limited questions to one per person, Burt Hertigstad, who works in UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film, said that staff with whom he has spoken weren’t satisfied with the information that they have received about Shared Services and called the meager attempts to publicize the transformation project little more than “smoke and mirrors.”

“Thanks for giving me the chance to ask one question,” said Hertigstad. “But I really have about 50.”

Accenture’s track record: a brief history lesson

The Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 in a recent broadcast to members said that it obtained a draft of the University of Texas at Austin’s Shared Services Plan, which the union describes as a blueprint for consolidating and privatizing campus services.

Among other things, the plan calls for the consolidation of IT, human resources, and financial services that would eliminate 500 of the 2,500 jobs in these departments.

The Shared Services Plan is part of larger plan entitled Smarter Systems for a Greater UT, drafted by the Committee on Business Productivity.

The committee is composed of 13 business executives and led by Steve Rohleder of Accenture.

The Shared Services Plan estimates that the proposed consolidation will save $30 million to $40 million a year over the next ten years, but in order to realize these savings, UT will need to invest $160 million to $180 million to build new services and reporting capabilities, redesign processes and jobs, provide training, and enhance technologies.

According to Seth Hutchinson, TSEU’s organizing coordinator, Accenture and some of the other corporations represented on the committee will likely bid on the multi-million contracts needed to implement the Shared Services Plan.

A brief history lesson might be in order before UT commits millions of dollars in public funds to a plan drafted by Accenture and its cohorts.

Back in the mid 1980s, the Texas Attorney General’s child support program was not meeting its goals.

Then Attorney General Jim Mattox called in Arthur Andersen, one the US’ big five accounting firms, to conduct a review of the program and recommend improvements.

The review was conducted by Arthur Andersen’s consulting division, which eventually renamed itself Andersen Consulting and established itself as an independent company. In the early aughts, Andersen Consulting rebranded itself as Accenture.

Among other things, Andersen/Accenture recommended that the Child Support Division build a new computer system.

Since the child support system was antiquated and the federal government was requiring all states to build new systems anyway, the attorney general decided to follow the Andersen/Accenture recommendation.

Coincidentally, Andersen/Accenture bid on and won the contract for the design and development of the new system that would come to be called TXCSES.

Work on TXCSES began in 1991 and was supposed to be completed by 1993.

But the project took four years longer than planned. The Texas State Auditor’s Office reported in 1997 before implementation of TXCSES that the delay was partially due to “problems with design of the system and unresolved issues between (Andersen/Accenture) and the Office of the Attorney General.”

The Texas Sunset Commission in a 1998 report said that the cost of TXCSES was originally estimated to be $24 million but ballooned to $75 million.

The commission also reported that “TXCSES is a major source of problems associated with delays in (child support) payments to the families” and that “one year after implementation there were 865 outstanding requests (by users) to change TXCSES.”

One of TXCSES’ design flaws was that it had to be taken off line for up to 30 hours at the end of the month for periodic batch runs. The shutdowns delayed payments going to families at the end and beginning of months.

In another report, the commission noted that after the Andersen/Accenture-designed system was implemented, the child support program failed to meet five of the program’s six key productivity measures.

After TXCSES came online, only a handful of Andersen/Accenture staff remained on the job. Nearly all of the work it took to fix TXCSES was done by state employees, who the commission said were underpaid and worked in a department that was understaffed.

It took state workers three years to fix TXCSES, but finally in 2000, the child support program was able to meet or exceed its productivity measures.

Five years later, another state agency decided to contract with Accenture to redesign the way that Texas provided health and human services.

In 2003, the state legislature passed HB 2292, which among other things called for the consolidation and privatization of Texas’ health and human services.

Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth sponsored HB 2292, and she had help from a former staffer named Chris Britton drafting the bill.

After HB 2292 passed, Britton went to work for Accenture.

In 2005, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) awarded to Accenture an $899 million contract to redesign its services as required by HB 2292.

In 2007, DHHS fired Accenture because wrote State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Harlingen Valley Morning Star., “it failed miserably to provide services or save money.”

After the firing was announced, the Corpus Christi Times ran an editorial describing some the redesign failures:

The promised $646 million in savings never materialized from the deal that would have transferred the job of determining eligibility for social services to private call centers. Instead, thousands of families complained of abandoned phone calls, long waits, lost records, abruptly canceled coverage for children’s health insurance, and faxed applications that disappeared.

Accenture’s work took a farcical turn when hundreds of faxed applications for services ended up in a Seattle warehouse.

Accenture’s farce descended into tragedy with the death of 14-year old Devonte Johnson, who died of stomach cancer. His mother’s application for insurance from the Children’s Health Insurance Program was inexplicably mishandled by an Accenture call center causing a delay in his treatment.

After Accenture’s contract was terminated, DHHS’ then Executive Director Albert Hawkins told legislators that the cost of the redesign project was $500 million and that the agency had paid Accenture $186 million. When asked whether the state had realized any savings, Hawkins could not identify any.

According to Sen. Lucio, “the Accenture contract . . . cost the state $100 million more than budgeted, while fewer children and families received the needed benefits.”

Once again, state workers had to step in and clean up Accenture’s mess.

Hutchinson said, TSEU wants to ensure that state employees at UT won’t have to do the same.

“Silence and lack of involvement does no good,” said Hutchinson to UT workers. “The only response that has any chance of stopping this is plan is to stand up and fight back in defense of our jobs, our livelihoods and our future. It is time to get involved. Join the union!”

Texas pension bill improved after union mobilizations; more work to be done

Late Thursday night, the Texas House of representatives postponed action on a bill that would have cut pension benefits for future state employees and raised employee and state contributions to the Texas Employees Retirement System (ERS) pension fund.

The original version of the bill, CSHB 1882, would have cut pension benefits that had already been earned for almost two-thirds of the state employees whose pension is administered by ERS.

CSHB 1882 passed out of the House Pension Committee on April 22, but the day before the bill was taken up by the full House, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Callegari, told the Austin American Statesman that he had accepted changes that would exempt current employees from the pension cuts and apply them only to new hires.

Originally, the till would have reduced pension benefits for most current employees by

  • increasing the number of years used to calculate final average salary to  five, effectively reducing most employees’ pension benefit;
  • eliminating the use of unused annual leave for calculating  pension benefits’;
  • disallowing the use of unused annual leave to calculate years of service for retirement eligibility; and
  • raising the age at which an employee could retire with full pension benefits.

Rep. Callegari said that he agreed to the changes because so many state employees had voiced their opposition to the bill.

After CSHB 1882 passed out of committee, members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU) staged a mass call-in to their lawmakers to protest the cuts.

To bolster the call-in, rank-and-file members on May 1 held a Pension Defenders Lobbying Blitz. “TSEU members visited the offices of 30 House Republican members who we felt could be persuaded on this issue,” said Derrick Osobase, TSEU’s political director. “Eight Republican House members agreed with TSEU and committed to oppose the bill in its current form. Some others were uncommitted but expressed their willingness to look at the issues more closely.”

Osobase said that the amended bill is better than the original, but the new version does create yet another tier of unequal pension benefits.

TSEU members on May 8 held another Pension Defenders Lobbying Blitz.

“We broke into four groups to talk to Democrats this time,” said Vicki Clark-Bradley, a retired social worker who worked at the Austin State Assisted Living Center. “The Democrats were solid in opposing the original bill but were slipping a bit with the amendment. We really hate to pit new against older employees.”

If the new version of CSHB 1882 passes, it will be the second time in four years that lawmakers changed pension eligibility rules, which create unequal tiers of pension benefits depending on when an employee started to work for the state. In some cases, employees will be receiving unequal pension benefits even though the are doing the same job.

TSEU is concerned about the effect that creating these unequal benefits will have on state services.

“Cutting the retirement benefits of future employees will increase turnover among these workers and hurt the state’s ability to deliver needed services to Texans,” said Osobase. “High turnover rates are bad for our agencies and universities, and bad for the ERS and TRS (teacher and public higher education pension) funds. When current workers are retired, we need stable and strong pension funds that can provide annuity increases for retirees. This will be less likely with a future workforce that has to work years longer for fewer benefits.”

TSEU is also working with the Texas Federation of Teachers and the Texas State Teachers Association to improve another pension bill that originally called for pension benefit cuts for public school and public higher education employees.

That bill, SB 1458, passed out of the Senate on May 8 and now heads to the House. Like CSHB 1882, the original version of SB 1458 cut pension benefits that had already been earned for hundreds of thousands of public school and public higher education employees. The teachers’ unions mobilized thousands of members to protest the cuts.

The new version significantly reduces the number of employees affected by the cuts; however, those with fewer than five years of service will still see their pension benefits cut.

TFT in a message to members said that when the bill goes to the House for consideration, the union will try to eliminate the cuts that affect those with fewer than fiver years of service and try to win a cost of living raise for all retirees.

Better caseload standards, more workers needed to protect Texas’ children

Everyone agrees that protecting children from abuse is important work, but few appreciate how much work goes into doing the job right. Members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 on February 19 testified before a state House committee to explain all the work that must be done to keep children safe.

The TSEU members were supporting HB 304, a bill authored by Armando Walle of Houston that would establish reasonable caseloads standards for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency that oversees Child Protective Services (CPS).

“It is my job to work with (children who have been removed from their home), their families and relatives, their attorney’s, the court, court appointed volunteers, the caregivers, and all medical experts who make recommendations (for the children),” said Michelle Copeland, a caseworker in a Houston CPS conservatorship unit to the lawmakers. “And let’s not forget, in-house programs and service providers. As the child’s conservatorship worker, it is my duty to see the child in the home monthly, confirm that the child’s needs are being met medically, academically, emotionally, physically, and culturally, address concerns as they arise, meet documentation deadlines, monitor the progress based on the child’s plan and the family plan of service, transport to family visits, medical visits, sibling visits, or rapport-building visits. I must also visit the parent’s home, or attend service provider facilities to participate in therapeutic recommendation suggestions.”

In addition CPS workers work under strict deadlines set by the Legislature.

“The amount of time it takes to do a good investigation varies case by case, but with every case that we are assigned, we have to do what is legislatively mandated,” said John Paul Scott, a CPS investigator and Army veteran. “That means contact within 24 hours for Priority 1 cases and 72 hours for Priority 2 cases. In addition, the agency requires documentation of all work and interviews within 24 hours. If you go out on a case that involves seven children, that means seven separate interviews with the children, interviews with the parents, and contacts with collaterals.”

TSEU members told lawmakers that caseloads are too high, which means that a caseworkers and investigators can’t give their full attention to each cases. The Caseload Standard Advisory Committee recommends that the average CPS conservatorship caseworker caseload should be 20, but the current average caseload is 32.

The same holds true for other positions. The recommended caseload for investigators is 15, but the current average is 21.9; for family based safety service caseworkers, it’s 10, but the current average is 14; and for adult protective services caseworkers, it’s 22, but the current average is 30.

“The quality of our casework goes down when caseloads go up,” said Susan Rial, an investigations supervisor in Arlington. “If given an appropriate amount of time to complete an investigation, workers should be able to make good, sound observations regarding the families on their caseload. This is not possible when you have 30 or 50 or more cases. No amount of technology or better time management can make it possible for a worker to gather and process all the relevant case information for so many cases.”

Rial said that the high caseload creates a vicious cycle. It causes a high rate of burn out, which in turn creates a high level of turnover. High turnover increase the caseload for those who stay.

CPS’s turnover rate for 2012 was 24 percent; the state average was 17.3 percent. The overall turnover rate for the Department of Family Protective Services was 19.4 percent.

HB 304 aims to make caseloads more manageable, and by doing so relieve much of the stress that leads to turnover. It sets average caseload standards for investigative caseworkers, CPS case workers, CPS conservatorship caseworkers, child-care licensing caseworkers, and adult protective services in-house caseworkers.

The Legislative Budget Board estimates that setting the new caseload standards would create more than 2,500 new jobs within the Department of Family and Protective Services.

“The only way that the risk to vulnerable children, elderly and disabled Texans will be reduced is for this Legislature to approve House Bill 304,” said Scott to the lawmakers. “I ask for you to support this bill so we can make some real progress improving the work our agency does.”

Texas state employees rally to defend the public good

As the new session of the Texas Legislature convened on January 8 inside the State Capitol in Austin, leading lawmakers and state officials said that Texas should refrain from restoring budget cuts that left state services in tatters two years ago. Others favor even steeper cuts.

Outside of the Capitol, members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU) gathered in a steady rain at their Defending the Public Good rally to demand that the cuts be restored and services expanded.

“Whether it’s public safety, public education, public health, health and human services or a host of other services, public services are a public good that affect the quality of life for all of us,” said Seth Hutchinson, TSEU organizing coordinator. “We should be talking about how to improve and expand them, not about maintaining them at their current inadequate level much less cutting them.”

State employees were joined at their rally by members of the Workers Defense Project, which helps low-wage, mainly immigrant workers organize for better pay and safer working conditions, Education Austin, the local teachers’ union, IBEW, the Texas AFL-CIO, and the Texas Fair Trade Coalition.

Inside the Capitol, other TSEU members gathered at the rotunda, then fanned out to give legislators a packet containing TSEU’s legislative agenda. The agenda’s priority is funding state agencies at levels that allow state employees to provide quality services. The agenda includes a fair pay raise for state and university employees and full funding for employee health care and pension benefits.

The agenda also contains proposals for improving services such as

  • Restore federal funding for the Women’s Health Program, (WHP may lose federal funding because lawmakers stopped funding Planned Parenthood clinics, the largest provider WHP services);
  • Increase funding for and stop privatization at state universities;
  • Improve caseload levels for parole officers and staffing levels at the Juvenile Justice Department;
  • Stop the privatization of state assisted living centers and state hospitals;
  • Restore funding for client services at the Department of Family and Protective Services; and
  • Stop the closure of health and human service offices especially in rural areas.

“Two years ago, Texas cut funding for state services by $15 billion,” said Derrick Osobase, TSEU political director. “It now has the resources to restore the cuts and expand services.” The comptroller estimates that total state revenue for the next two years will be $202.8 billion, 17 percent more than during the last two years. The picture isn’t quite as rosy as it appears because there are structural problems with the state’s revenue system and the Texas population is growing rapidly, but “the legislature could at least make a sizeable down payment that could go a long way toward restoring and improving services,” Osobase said.

There is also $11.8 billion in the state’s Rainy Fund, some of which could be tapped to upgrade services.

Texas spends much less on services than other states. It ranks 47th among all states in spending per resident. Texas is especially stingy when it comes to providing services to its children. For example, five out of 1,000 of its children receive abuse and neglect prevention services. The national average, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, is 44 out of 1,000.

Two years ago, Texas slashed its public education budget by $5.4 billion, eliminating thousands of teaching and other direct education services positions. Two days ago, the Texas Education Agency announced that state education funding is about $1 billion short of what is needed for school districts to meet expenses for this school year.

Children aren’t the only ones that the state scrimped on two years ago. Lawmakers cut $58 million from the budget for supporting 60,000 Medicaid-dependent elderly and disabled people in nursing homes.

In addition to restoring and expanding these and other vital services, TSEU wants to improve them. Doing so will require attracting and maintaining a qualified and experienced workforce, but turnover at state agencies is a major obstacle.

The annual turnover rate for classified state employees in 2012 was 17.3 percent, up from 16.8 percent in 2011 and 14.6 percent in 2010. In some high stress positions, the rate is higher:  For example, 35.9 percent for Juvenile Corrections Officers, 22.2 percent for nurses, and 25 percent for Child Protective Services Specialists.

One of the main reasons for high turnover is low pay. Two years ago, the Center for State & Local Government Excellence reported that Texas state employee pay on average was 17 percent lower than pay for comparable work in the private sector.

“State employees have gone four years without a pay raise, so it’s time for one,” Osobase said. “A fair raise and full funding for health care and pension benefits would go a long way toward lowering the turnover rate and improving services.”

Osobase also noted that state retirees haven’t received a pension increase since 2001 and that it’s time for the legislature to fully fund the pension plan so that pensions can be raised.

Foster care redesign hits snag; privitization not the answer union says

Texas’ Foster Care Redesign program hit a snag on August 9 when the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) announced that it would not award a contract to a private contractor that had previously been selected to coordinate and manage foster care services in the Corpus Christi area.

State lawmakers had hoped that by using private contractors to coordinate foster care services the state could stretch the dollars of an already under funded child welfare program that is supposed to protect abused and neglected children.

Corpus Christi was to be the site of one of two Foster Care Redesign pilot programs.

But the Austin American Statesman reported that the social services company that was supposed to coordinate care in Corpus has a spotty record of providing care at foster homes that it currently manages.

Myko Gedutis, Texas State Employees Union lead organizer for DFPS and Southeast Texas, says that the state’s Foster Care Redesign program doesn’t address a key problem–Texas doesn’t invest enough money in helping abused and neglected children.

“I think the cancellation of the contract proves that we were right about privatization and redesign” Gedutis said. “A private agency can’t provide the same level of services–much less improve them–with the same pitiful amount of state funding.”

According to the Statesman, Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSSS), the private contractor that DFPS had originally chosen to implement Foster Care Redesign in Corpus, lost its contract because of problems with its operations in other Texas cities.

DFPS found that foster care homes managed by LSSS in Laredo, Garland, and Richardson used prohibited punishments such as pinching, hair pulling, and shaking, used food as punishment and reward, humiliated children, and failed to keep safe and clean homes.

Of even greater concern, a three-year old child left unsupervised drowned at one of the foster care homes managed by LSSS in Laredo.

In the past, DFPS has cited LSSS for other problems.  In 2008, DFPS temporarily stopped referring children to LSSS in Lubbock because the company failed to show that it was conducting adequate background checks of people with whom it contracted to provide foster care.

DFPS’ Child Protective Services (CPS) has suffered from a long history of under funding that has made it difficult to serve some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

The state has been sued by Children’s Rights, a national child welfare advocacy group, which alleges that,

Texas overburdens its (CPS) caseworkers with excessive caseloads and lacks enough placement options to ensure children live in appropriate settings. . . . The state fails to monitor kids’ safety, putting them in understaffed group homes and unlicensed homes of relatives who are not given the same training or support as foster parents.

But the Legislature in 2011 eliminated 209 CPS positions and funded the foster care program at 10 percent less than the agency estimated it needed to keep up with an ever-expanding caseload.

The Legislature hoped that Foster Care Redesign, which was proposed in 2010 by a private/public partnership group that included LSSS, would help CPS stretch its budget and improve services.

Foster Care Redesign changes the way foster care services are paid for and relies on private contractors in specific regions to   coordinate services and manage the way state dollars are spent.

But Gedutis says that given the magnitude of foster care problems and the limited resources that the state allots to them, it’s difficult to see how private contractors can have much of an impact on improving services.

“Adding a level of administration to the foster care system only siphons off more resources,” he said. “The focus needs to be on improving services and keeping kids close to their communities. This can be done without privatization, but legislators would rather try to let the market figure it out instead of the agency or the state doing the heavy lifting to get better outcomes.”