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Rep. Mike Huebsch: Solutions for state's computer woes
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One of the real certainties in life is that mistakes do happen. Nobody's immune from making the wrong choice once in a while, and everyone looks back on their life at some point and thinks about how they would have done something different in a situation.

Unfortunately, "mistakes" are one thing the government isn't running low on. In the past few years, Wisconsin has suffered through an embarrassing series of delayed, over-budget and cancelled computer projects.

The Department of Revenue spent more than $28 billion on an "Integrated Tax System," which was abandoned last year. The state also spent $23 million on an unemployment insurance claim project and $26 million on a payroll system for the University of Wisconsin, only to have both projects scrapped. These mistakes are not isolated incidents: just last month it was revealed that a computer system for the state's Medicaid program would be a whopping $31.9 million above the project's initial cost estimate, almost double the project's initial $32 million estimate. That project also missed its straight deadline and likely won't be completed until October 2008 - 22 months after its original finish date.

There is simply no excuse for this waste of taxpayer dollars. The state of Wisconsin simply cannot go back to some of the highest-taxed people in the country with its hat in hand, saying "sorry" and asking for more money to throw at the problem.

Last spring, I formed a special Speaker's Task Force of eight legislators and eight private-sector members to investigate, identify the problems and recommend specific solutions. After months of extensive case studies, interviews, public hearings and input from a wide variety of real-world experts, the task force presented its recommendations to me this past week.

As with any complicated problem, there isn't a simple solution. First, the Task Force recommended reinstating the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology and the Information Technology Management Board, to provide some much-needed oversight and accountability. I plan on appointing members to this committee right away so they can get to work as soon as possible. Second, the Task Force recommended standardized written policies for IT project procedures, including a requirement to look at a chosen vendor's track record on similar projects. They also recommended uniform IT policies and procedures across agency lines, ensuring an environment where employees can raise and resolve issues before they spiral out of control, and establishing "Executive Sponsors" for all projects to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

I am extremely grateful for the arduous and detailed work of the Task Force, and I expect their recommendations will bring some much-needed common sense and reform to a complicated and difficult area of government. There's a lot at stake: according to a recent audit, there are 22 ongoing Information Technology projects categorized as large, high-risk project, which carry costs of $1 million or more apiece.

When the government messes up, it's more than a simple embarrassment, or an "I'll do better next time," it's a broken promise. I believe the government has a responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars 365 days a year.

Especially now, with an uncertain economy staring us in the face, the time for excuses is over. We owe it to the taxpayers to not throw good money after bad technology.

- Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, is speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly.