By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Fiscal Year 2017, begins with rejected payroll journal vouchers, a mountain of unpaid bills and the federally required Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for 2015, has still not been filed. These and many more problems continue because of the failure of the statewide audit system known as STARRS.
In December 2015, the Alabama Political Reporter disclosed the State’s inability to pay thousands of vendors, due to this flawed, $47 million dollar, no-bid software system.
Even after numerous reports of the system’s inability to function properly, Governor Robert Bentley and Acting Finance Director Bill Newton continued to defend it.
As of last week, numerous State agencies had to resubmit payroll journal vouchers, because the system rejected them. As one State employee remarked, “Ironically, with the way the comptroller has fee authority and bills departments by transaction, his office is sucking more money from agencies that are already financially strapped.”
(A little-known fact outside of government agencies: the comptroller’s office charges a fee for each STARRS transaction and additional fees every time STAARS rejects an entry. Each resubmission adds more cost-per-transaction, resulting in tens of thousands of taxpayer’s dollars wasted due to system errors).
According to a high-ranking official in the Bentley administration, the comptroller’s office is not troubled by how the system adversely affects other departments, because work once performed by that office is being delegated elsewhere. This transfer of responsibility is forcing some to work longer hours, and in some cases, hire more staff to keep up with the increased workload. “The comptroller is making more money because he can charge more transactions fees, and doing less work,” said a State employee.
A recent memo from the comptroller illustrates the problem: “All interface journal vouchers for the 13th AP will be rejected back due to an interface error. The rejected document will not appear in any worklist. After you process a 13th AP JV, then go to STAARS the next day and edit the cash line for balance sheet account 2003 and 1203. Change the posting code for BS 2003 to A002 and BS 1203 to A003.”
Confused? So are those who have to enter the same data, time and again, simply to have it rejected or vanish into the matrix of the dysfunctional software program.
Last Monday, the complete system shut down for hours, because it cannot support a large number of users at any given time. The addition of Tier 3 departments last week is causing system failure and denying access throughout the system.
Those close to the project (speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal) say the $47 million looks to be just a drop in the bucket compared to the actual cost of outside contractors, new “hires” and over time.
In May, APR obtained a letter in which the Chief Examiner of the State’s Department of Public Examiner warning Bentley and Newton that the failures of the STARRS accounting program would likely cause the State to be delinquent on its federally-required Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). Chief Examiner Ron Jones’ warning became fact, as the CAFR for 2015 is yet to be filed, as required by law.
Not only is the State facing penalties for noncompliance, it may also lose millions in Federal grants.
Clinton Carter recently joined the Bentley administration as Finance Director and faces the daunting task of addressing not only STAARS, but also a host of other failed systems.
Last year, Bentley and Newton assured the legislature they had the problem was well in hand, but a little digging shows otherwise.