What’s Going on in Texas with Accenture?


    If you’re wondering how to fashion a press release that makes lemonade out of lemons, you couldn’t do better than to follow the model of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), which issued this release on April 5, 2006:

    HHSC Plans New Improvements Before Eligibility Rollout

    AUSTIN – The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) today announced that it will make technical and operational improvements before further rollout of the state’s new system designed to make it easier for Texans to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and other services.

    “We remain firmly committed to the goal of allowing Texans to choose how they want to apply for services,” Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins said. “We also remain committed to ensuring that the new system is fully tested and ready before moving forward to other areas of the state.”…

    HHSC had planned to roll out the new system in more than 20 Hill Country counties in late April. Before implementing the system in a new area, the state conducts a thorough review to ensure it is ready. Hawkins said the state has determined that improvements need to be made in two areas – call center operations and technical performance – before moving forward.

    Improvement plans will be developed to address those issues, and HHSC will review the system’s readiness again in 30 days. The improvement plans will include better training for customer service representatives in the call centers, a process to more quickly resolve complicated cases, better reporting tools to track cases and workload, and improved data collection.

    “We will not roll out if we are not absolutely confident that we’re ready,” Hawkins said. “We will closely monitor our progress and adjust as needed to ensure a smooth transition to a better, more cost effective system.” 

    What’s got San Antonio Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra stomping mad, as you can see in this article, and this one, is the idea that the state trumpeted the huge savings ($646 million over five years) it would enjoy when health services and social services were privatized, but didn’t say the savings would come by cutting off services to the people who make up its clientele.

    As Guerra writes, "Enrollment in the Child Health Insurance Program that once covered more than 500,000 children of working poor parents dropped below 300,000 for the first time since the program was established."

    What’s this got to do with outsourcing?

    Apparently, the four call centers that Accenture has set up (to consolidate operations from 99 call centers that will be closed) are having a tough time making the transition. Training was inadequate, calls had interminable wait times and applications were lost. Those problems certainly weren’t because Accenture wasn’t being sufficiently compensated. The contract is for $899 million.

    According to a letter sent by the US Agricultural Department’s Food and Nutrition Services, which administers the foodstamp program, "Vendor performance is questionable as evidenced by the high percentage of cases that are returned to the vendor because of missing information and errors (40 percent), (and) case file documentation needs to be substantially improved to support program access and integrity."

    Guerra writes: "Accenture’s operators were ’sending clients to the wrong certification office; telling clients that applications would be processed in 30 business days; not providing information on the complaint process to clients who complained of rude treatment; clients were referred between (call centers) and local offices; and incorrect information (was given) about the appointment process.’"

    Not a great testimonial for Accenture’s call center services, to be sure.

    According to an earlier HHSC press release, the contract includes provisions that emphasize "excellent customer service and ensure strong accountability for tax dollars… The payment is based on the volume of work done and the ability to meet strict standards for timeliness and accuracy."

    How do you even begin to clean up a mess like this? Are there silver bullets — or do you just bite the bullet and tackle it one training class and one client at a time? It’s amazing to me how little one gets for a million dollars anymore.