Caplis distorted facts of state computer debacle, while Silverman questioned its relevance to Ritter's executive order

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

On November 6, co-hosts Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman of 630 KHOW-AM discussed remarks Gov. Bill Ritter (D) had made regarding state computer problems dating to the days of former Gov. Bill Owens' (R) administration. Ritter had said his order allowing state employee partnerships might have averted similar issues, but Caplis questioned "the premise" that there was "some $200 to $300 million computer mistake," while Silverman suggested the order could not have "alleviated" such problems. In fact, the Rocky Mountain News has reported that state officials estimate the computer issues cost the state $325 million, and both the News and The Denver Post have quoted state workers as saying that the partnerships would have helped them in their attempts to warn about the computer flaws.

Discussing Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) comment that state employee partnerships such as those authorized under his recent executive order might have helped prevent some of the computer problems Colorado faced under the administration of former Gov. Bill Owens (R), 630 KHOW-AM co-host Dan Caplis on November 6 stated that "the premise shouldn't be taken at face value ... that there was some $200 to $300 million computer mistake." He added that "it would take time to dig into that one." In fact, state officials have acknowledged implementing five flawed computer systems at costs totaling more than $325 million, according to a Rocky Mountain News article, and those systems all date to the Owens administration, as Colorado Media Matters has noted.

During the same discussion, co-host Craig Silverman said that he was "hard-pressed" to "figure out how" the subject of "this $300 million computer glitch" tied into the need for employee partnerships, asking, "How could it have been alleviated if a union was in place?" However, in news articles published during the preceding week, The Denver Post and the News cited state information technology workers who specifically stated that a lack of labor-management collaboration -- such as that which could be enabled by Ritter's order -- hindered workers' attempts to warn state officials of the flaws in the Owens administration's computer systems.

From the November 6 broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Caplis & Silverman Show:

CAPLIS: Yeah, and I had a chance to talk to Governor Owens by phone this afternoon, and he was catching a flight to a meeting but said, "Hey, you know, you can quote me on this. You know, if they want to" -- and I want to make sure I get this right -- "if, you know, if Governor Ritter wants to use us," referring to the Owens administration, "as an excuse, we will enter that debate." And you know, again, I think this an indication of multiple levels of mistake here involved in what Governor Ritter has done.

SILVERMAN: Yeah, ouch. Big fighting between the two Bills. Bill Owens, Bill Ritter, and I have to say that yesterday when Governor Ritter came on our show, I brought up this subject of this $300 million computer glitch, which I think was one of the most disappointing aspects of the Owens administration, but I was hard-pressed to figure out how it tied into this union situation. How could it have been alleviated if a union was in place? Governor Ritter gave an answer, but it seemed to me that he was kind of trying to say, "Look, Governor Owens had problems," but I didn't think they had anything really to do with the discussion. I'm not surprised that Governor Owens took an opportunity to respond, because he was pretty much attacked, and I don't know what the one subject had to do with the other.

CAPLIS: Well, and the premise shouldn't be taken at face value either, that there was some $200 to $300 million computer mistake. You know, it would take time to dig into that one, but again, I think the governor spinning it for his own purposes right now, which include distracting attention from what he did.

Contrary to Caplis' assertion that the "premise" of a $300 million computer "mistake" made under the Owens administration shouldn't be "taken at face value" and that it would take time "to dig into" the subject," the May 16 News article reported that a vehicle registration system known as the Colorado State Titling and Registration System (CSTARS) is "Colorado's fifth problem computer contract" and that "[t]he five deals total $325 million." Similarly, the News reported on April 3 that "Colorado pulled the plug Monday on its new computer for licensing motor vehicles -- the fifth computer system dating to the Owens administration to have major problems." The article continued:

Gov. Bill Ritter's administration halted use of the CSTARS system after reports of four cases in which police officers checking license plates were informed, incorrectly, that the registration was for a different car.

[...]

"We have substantial problems with our computer infrastructure," said Evan Dreyer, Ritter's spokesman.

"CSTARS is one of at least five troubled computer systems the Ritter administration inherited," Dreyer said.

He cited four others, which failed to pay road workers and welfare recipients accurately and failed to track unemployment benefits and voter registration.

Total value of the problem computer contracts: $317 million.

Dreyer said Ritter had heard of this issue during the campaign and hired chief information officer Mike Locatis to fix it.

"We share the frustrations around these failed computer systems and are working hard to solve these problems," Dreyer said. Locatis is evaluating all of the state's computer systems, he said.

Furthermore, the Post reported on October 12 that a "shake-up in how the state buys and manages computers comes after several multimillion-dollar blunders during the final years of Gov. Bill Owens' administration." As Colorado Media Matters noted, a News article of the same day stated, "Under the previous administration, the state contracted to spend $325 million on five new computer systems that were unable to: pay welfare benefits on time, pay road crews overtime, track voters or unemployment benefits, or issue license plates."

Additionally, according to a November 7 News article, "Toward the end of the Owens administration, state departments struggled with underperforming or nonfunctioning computer hardware and software. The biggest problem was the state's $223 million Colorado Benefits Management System, which disrupted welfare benefits for some of Colorado's poorest residents."

Although Silverman said that he was "hard-pressed to figure out how" the computer system problems "tied into this union [partnership agreement] situation," the Post in two recent news articles, and the News in another, quoted labor officials or state information technology workers specifically tying a lack of employee partnerships to failed attempts to alert department management about extensive problems with the computer systems -- which one worker said "fell on deaf ears."

A November 4 Post article quoted one state technology employee as stating specifically that the partnerships give workers "a voice" that they didn't have when they tried to warn managers about the flawed computer systems:

"We didn't have a voice, and now we do," said Bill Cron, an information technology employee for the state Department of Transportation. "I'm ecstatic."

Cron said he tried to speak up about a flawed computer system that cost the state millions of dollars, but he had no "voice at the table."

Another November 4 Post article quoted the president of one union local as making the same specific comparison:

Mitch Ackerman, president of Service Employees International Union Local 105, called the partnership with Kaiser [Permanente Colorado] a "21st century model of collective bargaining," a departure from the traditionally adversarial relationship between managers and workers.

Ackerman said the governor's executive order is "a really important step forward" for the state because it will provide a vehicle for employees to offer suggestions for how government can operate more efficiently.

Citing the $300 million the state has spent on failed computer systems, staff time, legal work and other costs related to crashing computers, Ackerman said state employees - if asked - could have offered suggestions to prevent such problems.

The News on November 2 quoted another state technology worker as saying that the lack of partnerships such as those enabled by Ritter's order hindered their efforts to warn state officials about the massive computer problems:

Unionized employees point to some foiled attempts by fellow workers to alert managers to potential problems with new information technology systems in several departments of state government in recent years.

"When employees raised the flag, it fell on deaf ears," said Dave Growley, a member of the Colorado Association of Public Employees who works in the Colorado Department of Public Administration's IT area.

While Growley and his co-workers have been able to join a union to advocate for them on topics such as health care, he said workers lack any formal representation.

"Right now, you can be part of a union, but you really have no partnership or ongoing relationship with the heads of government to make any difference," he said.

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