By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The $47 million no-bid software package known as STAARS, a statewide government accounting system, is now going to require more full-time staff at the Department of Finance, according to a presentation made to agency heads last week.
The multi-million dollar system, touted as a cost-saving measure, will also need additional outsourced programers, according to the report.
The trouble with STAARS came to light after this publication reported on the failed implementation in December 2015. The State’s new payment software had left hundreds of thousand of dollars in arrears, with thousands of vendors waiting months for payments.
So dire was the situation, that the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) alone has approximately 23,000 vendors who had not been paid in a timely fashion. Even the State Attorneys’ Bar Association memberships had lapsed because of the State’s non-payment.
Panicked by our reporting, acting Finance Director Bill Newton warned department heads not to speak to the media, and report any contact to him immediately, or else.
Gov. Robert Bentley sought to spin the failure in late December, declaring it would, “save taxpayers millions with an overdue upgrade.”
But it is not an upgrade, it is a completely knew system which by law must be bid.
A 2008 memo clearly outlines the terms under which the system should be purchased, but Newton convinced Bentley to do otherwise. The memo explained, “The next phase of the SMART Business Systems has been dictated by a legal interpretation of a major procurement issue, which was brought to the attention of the Steering Committee during the work on the RFP. The Steering Committee has been advised by legal counsel, that the law in Alabama requires the use of a competitive bid process for the procurement of software when acquiring an “off-the-shelf” product. Since the stated goal for the SMART Business Systems ERP project is the use of a complete off-the-shelf solution, it has become apparent to the Steering Committee that the project must change our approach to accommodate the more complex development of very specific and very detailed specifications before the release of an Invitation To Bid (ITB).”
But Bentley and Newton contrived a scheme to claim that no bid was necessary.
It was not an upgrade, the contract was not according to State law, and nothing has been done to correct the problem or hold those reasonable accountable.
Department heads through the State continue to complain about the system and our money, time, and government resources are being used to prop up the system’s botched implementation.
The cost of STAARS is shared equally among agencies, will the cost of these new employees and contract software personnel be shared by other departments?
With Newton admitting it will cost more tax dollars and require more State employees, isn’t it time for a thorough investigation into what happen when STAARS failed Alabama.