MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has signed a $58 million information technology contract with Accenture, the same company that was paid millions of dollars but failed to deliver a fully functional voter registration system to the state seven years ago.
Deputy Department of Administration Secretary Chris Schoenherr told The Associated Press on Thursday that Accenture learned from its mistakes that led to the voter registration contract being canceled in 2007.
Wisconsin awarded Accenture the contract to oversee a previously delayed complete overhaul of the state’s various computer systems last month. Accenture scored higher than the only other bidder, Cherry Road, and the bid process was reviewed by an independent law firm and found to be fair and impartial.
Accenture is one of the country’s largest technology consulting firms. President Barack Obama’s administration recently turned to Accenture to take over control of running the much-maligned federal health insurance website.
Still, Democrats raised concerns.
“Given their spotty track record I’m worried taxpayers are going to get ripped off again,” said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.
Schoenherr likened Accenture’s job on the voter registration contract in Wisconsin to a football team that loses some games in the regular season but is still good enough to play in the Super Bowl.
“We expect them to bring their A team, bring their A game, and have a Super Bowl-level performance,” Schoenherr said.
In a statement Thursday, Accenture said the company is working on thousands of projects with private and public sector clients worldwide at any given time. In fiscal year 2012, Accenture was involved with more than 4,000 clients in 120 countries including more than 80 of the Fortune 100, the company said.
“In the rare instances when projects we are involved in encounter challenges, Accenture is known for collaborating closely with clients to reach the best possible outcome,” the company said.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, of Kenosha, said there should be some level of legislative oversight to make sure taxpayer money isn’t wasted given Accenture’s record in the state and past problems with other information technology projects.
“We don’t ever seem to get it right,” Barca said.
Wisconsin’s elections board and the company reached a settlement in 2007 in which included Accenture agreed to pay $4 million to avoid a lawsuit. The Government Accountability Board had paid the company about $9 million before ending the deal because elections officials said it had not created a fully functional voter registration system.
Colorado, Florida, Kansas, and Wyoming also canceled contracts with Accenture over delays in delivering similar systems.
Accenture’s $58 million contract on the new Wisconsin information technology project is more than four-times bigger than the voter registration one.
But the $200 million project has a checkered past.
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration spent about $11 million over three years to upgrade the state’s various outdated computer systems before pulling the plug in 2008 in light of a half-billion dollar budget shortfall at the time. The work was only about 5 percent done before it ended.
Doyle had planned to restart the project in 2009, but it never happened.
Now, the project is starting again with the goal of having all the computer systems upgraded or replaced within three years. The total cost is expected to be about $200 million. All of the money to pay Accenture has already been allocated or will be borrowed and paid back over 15 years, Schoenherr said.
When completed, disparate state agency administrative systems to support financial, human resources, payroll and procurement activities will be replaced with one integrated system. Schoenherr said that will allow the state to operate more efficiently and over 10 years save an estimated $100 million.
The state’s current operating systems, some of which are more than 30 years old, were identified by Doyle nearly a decade ago as needing to be replaced. Schoenherr, who oversaw two similar transitions in the private sector, said he was shocked at how out of date some of the state’s IT systems are.
The state’s payroll system was implemented in the mid-1980s and are COBOL systems, a computer language so out of date it’s hard to find technicians who can work with it, Schoenherr said. One of the state’s accounting systems is 21 years old and no longer supported by a vendor.
Schoenherr said the state’s top information technology workers have been brought together to work with Accenture on the transition.
Given the scope of the project, and problems it’s had in the past, many people don’t believe it can get done, Schoenherr said.
“The No. 1 issue for us is we want something that works,” he said.