By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Chanting the much-ballyhooed mantra of “streamlining government, transparency and efficiency,” the administration of Governor Robert Bentley and the Republican-controlled State House have green-lighted, perhaps, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on failed software systems.
Last Monday, Bentley’s cabinet secretary for the Office of Information Technology (OIT), Dr. Joanne Hale, informed an oversight committee that the CARES software system is still inoperable after nearly four years and $60 million in squandered taxpayers’ money.
CARES is a clever name for a system used to administer and enroll individuals in state and federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, children’s services, public health and senior programs.
The CARES project was doomed to fail from the very beginning, according to experts who consulted on the project. Bad judgment, poor leadership and an arrogance rarely seen outside of the cushy world inhabited by government employees were the major causes of the expensive debacle. But, what is worse than the gross incompetence surrounding this and other projects such as STAARS and eSTART, is the incomparable negligence of Robert Bentley, a man who doesn’t know or care to understand what is happening around him, and holds no one accountable when failures occur.
After APR exposed the CARES fiasco in September, a hastily organized meeting was called to ensure Bentley that matters were in hand. Those in attendance were startled when a confused Bentley said that he had just recently signed the Executive Order authorizing CARES. However, Bentley signed EO44 on June 30, 2014, two years earlier.
At this past Monday’s meeting, Hale rattled-off the usual line of excuses as to why CARES was still not functioning, according to two attendees who asked not to be identified. When asked if she was worried that APR would discover OIT’s continued mismanagement of CARES, Hale reportedly responded saying something like, “I have been assured by some legislators that they (APR) have bigger fish to fry.”
A call to Hale’s office was not returned Friday, even after her assistant assured APR that Hale would return the call after she finished an afternoon meeting.
APR is seeking accurate information on the total dollars spent so far on the CARES project.
APR also contacted the Office of Finance Director, Clinton Carter, who also failed to return our call. Carter was appointed by the Governor to right the sinking ship of State, a task no mere mortal could do, as long as Bentley is its chief executive officers, head magistrate or commander-in-chief, as he reportedly refers to himself.
Calls to committee members Dr. Tom Miller and Neal Morrison were not returned as well.
At Monday’s meeting, Hale called for a vote to make Interim Program Director, Keith Wright, permanent project head. However, no one informed his boss, Dr.Tom Miller, the State’s chief health officer, about OIT poaching his staffer.
In September, APR obtained an internal review of the CARES project which cited budget overruns, software incompatibility, a poisonous work environment and incompetent leadership.
Monday’s meeting revealed that DHR pulled out of the project, ALDH, which is believed to be paying the lion’s share of the development, has had enough, and that frustration among committee members has reached a boiling point.
A number of individuals, including former prosecutors who have read APR’s reports on costly phone systems run amuck, STAARS, eSTART, CARES and other issues emanating out of OIT and the Department of Finances have unanimously expressed the opinion that APR may or may not have exposed anything criminal, unless incomparable incompetence is a crime.