Chieftain, 9News omitted Owens administration role in state's IT troubles


In reporting on Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) announcement that Colorado will centralize its departmental computer systems, The Pueblo Chieftain and KUSA 9News noted the systems' significant problems but did not mention that the troubles dated to former Republican Gov. Bill Owens' administration.

In the October 12 edition of The Pueblo Chieftain, Charles Ashby reported on Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) announcement of a plan to consolidate Colorado's departmental computer systems -- the second phase in the governor's attempt to fix significant problems with the state's computer systems -- but did not note that the problems dated to former Gov. Bill Owens' (R) administration, as Colorado Media Matters has pointed out. Similarly, on the October 11 broadcast of KUSA's 9News at 10 p.m., anchor Bob Kendrick reported on preceding failures of the state's computer systems. But while Kendrick noted that one computer system had failed in September 2004, he neglected to note specifically that the problems stem from systems implemented during the Owens administration. In contrast, October 12 articles about Ritter's announcement in the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post noted the Owens administration's role in the computer fiasco, as did an August 22 Chieftain article (also by Ashby) reporting on an audit of the state computer systems.

The Chieftain reported on October 12 that consolidation of the state's computer systems "would save the state millions of dollars in future labor and equipment costs" and "would put [Colorado's chief information officer Michael] Locatis in more direct control over the computer systems operated by the 17 state departments that the governor oversees." The Chieftain also quoted Ritter as saying, "There were mistakes made about decentralizing the system, duplicating efforts ... The pyramid system was not well thought out across state government, and nor do the agencies really talk to one another." The article continued:

"We're bringing it back together," the governor added. "I can't say it was a bad ideology that drove them to make mistakes, it was just part of how governments across the country saw technology. They saw it as something to bring in in a piecemeal fashion. We wound up in Colorado seeing a great deal of money that ultimately was badly spent."

Over the past several years, the state has spent millions of dollars on large-scale computer systems that either had to be scrapped or took much longer than initially planned to get working.

However, despite its previous reporting, the Chieftain did not mention that the state's current efforts aim to correct and streamline computer systems implemented during the administration of Owens, who left office in January after serving two four-year terms.

On August 22, the Chieftain reported that the "real reason the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment had to scrap a $41 million computer project last year was because it failed to properly monitor the contract, a state audit revealed Tuesday." The Chieftain further noted that "[t]he department's Genesis Project, which was to handle unemployment benefits and tax collections, could have been rescued when problems began to arise in 2003 and 2004 if the department had been watching it closely, state auditors told the Legislative Audit Committee." After reporting that Owens' labor department failed to properly execute a background investigation on Accenture, the computer consulting firm contracted to "build the unemployment computer system," the Chieftain noted:

Accenture also worked on two other troubled state computer programs: the $10.5 million Statewide Colorado Registration and Election system for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, and an $11 million Colorado State Titling and Registration System for the Colorado Department of Revenue.

While both those contracts were cancelled as a result of the problems, they weren't the only expensive computer systems the state has tried to implement under former Gov. Bill Owens' administration.

The Chieftain mentioned two more computer systems that "ran into serious problems" before reporting that "John Conley, deputy to the state's new chief information officer, Mike Locatis, said the problems with those five computer systems are exactly the reason Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order earlier this year giving Locatis and his Office of Information and Technology broader powers in overseeing large-scale computer projects."

Similarly to the Chieftain's October 12 article, 9News reported on October 11 that "[t]he state's computer chief estimates past problems have cost Colorado $200 to $300 million," but made no mention of the Owens administration's role in those "past problems."

In contrast, an October 12 article in the Post pointed out that "[t]he 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." And an article in the News on the same day stated that "[u]nder 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."

From the October 11 broadcast of KUSA's 9News at 10 p.m.:

KENDRICK: Governor Ritter has created a team of technology experts to reform the state's troubled computer systems. The state's computer chief estimates past problems have cost Colorado $200 to $300 million. In March, several CDOT [Colorado Department of Transportation] snowplow drivers protested at the Capitol because they weren't getting their paychecks. The problem was a payroll glitch in the transportation department's computer system. And in September of 2004, thousands of parents weren't getting food stamps because of a new welfare computer system that failed. The state's chief information officer says while many costly programs will have to be thrown out, some can be saved.

LOCATIS [video clip]: We haven't scrapped all of those systems. Many of those systems, at the core level, they're recoverable, and we're working through them --

KENDRICK: The computer reform also calls for consolidating 20 state departments by using similar computer equipment to cut costs.

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