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Finance Department set to terminate STAARS contract ahead of court date

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Finance Department is set to terminate its contract with a technology company over the controversial $47-million STAARS software program, according to court documents.

The Finance Department purchased the new statewide accounting system software, the State of Alabama Accounting and Resource System, in 2015. In December 2015, The Alabama Political Reporter reported that the state was unable to pay thousands of vendors because of failures in the software.

Notice of the termination of the contract was included in a recent court filing in a civil suit brought against the software by State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who has accused the Finance Department of entering into the contract without going through proper bidding procedures.

Zeigler filed the lawsuit last year, asking the court to declare that the STAARS contract violated the State’s competitive bid laws and enjoin further implementation of the STAARS contract. The contract, the Finance Department has said, was not a new contract that required competitive bid; instead, it was an updated and amended contract from 1982 for similar software.

That contract expired in 1997, Zeigler has said.

The lawsuit also asks the court to order CGI Technology Solutions Inc., the software company, to pay restitution to the State for money that has been paid out for the software.

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In a motion filed last week, State Finance Director Clinton Carter asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because the complaint came “too late,” two years after implementation and four years after the renewal of the contract. His attorneys also wrote that the court action could come too late because the contract is set to terminate in September.

According to the documents, performance of maintenance on the software and other services provided by CGI are set to terminate on September 30, 2017, leaving the Court with no contract to enjoin.

“There may, therefore, be nothing for the Court to enjoin and no ongoing contract to be declared void by the time a judgment can be reached,” the Finance Department’s attorneys wrote.

Letters from the Department included in the court filings show that the State has sent a “disengagement letter” to CGI, which stated that CGI had “satisfied its contractual obligations.”

The State plans to move to an in-house delivery plan for the software or a new contract for operation and technical support, according to the documents. The disengagement letter also states that the State will not further amend the original 1982 agreement with CGI or any other existing agreements surrounding the software.

The Department will not “restart work concluded by this agreement without executing a new contract competitively awarded,” the disengagement letter reads. It was signed by the CGI executives and Gov. Kay Ivey on April 28.

A court hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the case to hear the motions for dismissal.

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“The cancellation is a win for Zeigler and for Alabama taxpayers,” said Doyle Fuller, an attorney for Zeigler. “But there are still loose ends to be brought to court.”

Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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