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Deja vu: Taxpayers hit again with UW System waste

By   /   January 16, 2013  /   2 Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

UW: The University of Wisconsin System spent at least $28 million on an IT platform it never used.

MADISON – Sometimes sorry isn’t enough.

Ask the legions of Lance Armstrong fans, the same Lance Armstrong who only takes his doping mea culpa to Oprah Winfrey.

Ask Maria Shriver just how meaningful an Arnold Schwarzenegger apology is.

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Randall, a long-time member of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Audit, too, is struggling with the University of Wisconsin System’s contrition these days.

She remembers the hearings, the detailed audit report, the misspent money, the mismanaged project, the $28 million the system spent on an integrated technology system it never used.

“I’m angry. I’m angry not only as a taxpayer but as a former student at (the University of Wisconsin-Madison),” she told Wisconsin Reporter days after a Legislative Audit Bureau report found the UW System overpaid for pension contributions and health insurance premiums by almost $33 million over the past two years.

The report cites problems with the system’s payroll and benefit protocols.

UW System President Kevin Reilly pledged in a statement to “identify exactly why and how these significant errors occurred, we will validate that steps we have already taken are working, we will take any additional steps that need to be taken, and we will make absolutely sure that similar errors do not happen again.”

Kerkman said she heard the same apology nearly six years ago after an Audit Bureau released its findings on mismanagement and bloated spending in the state’s IT systems.

The UW System had spent years planning and implementing its highly touted APBS payroll and benefits platform. It was designed to replace the old mainframe platform developed back in the 1970s.

There was no doubt about the need, but the costs exploded and UW System ultimately halted implementation.

“UW System had estimated that APBS would be implemented in January 2005 at a cost of $19.7 million. Instead, the project was canceled in July 2006, after at least $28.4 million had been spent,” the April 2007 Audit Bureau Report noted. “However, this amount excludes significant staffing costs incurred by individual UW institutions, for which neither the institutions nor UW System has separately accounted.”

By February 2005 the system estimated full implementation of the faulty platform would cost as much as $62.6 million.

Eventually, system officials gave up, signing a licensing agreement with Oracle/PeopleSoft human resources procurement software.

The debacle raised plenty of questions at the Capitol and beyond about stewardship of taxpayer money, and the audit noted a litany of internal problems, including the inexperience of the IT administrator.

System spokesman David Giroux said the PeopleSoft platform was finally launched in 2011, handling all of the UW System’s payroll and benefits at its 26 campuses statewide. It is the same platform involved in the overpayments of $15.4 million in health insurance premiums to former employees and another $17.5 million in pension contribution overpayments to the Wisconsin Retirement System.

Giroux said they are different issues, involving glitches between the UW System and the Employee Trust Funds, which administers state contracts with provider State Group Health Insurance.

But Giroux said he agrees with Kerkman that the latest problems must be fixed.

“This is a really serious situation, one that is deeply troubling and one that has caused a great deal of embarrassment and needs an immediate fix,” he said.

Kerkman doesn’t sound like she’s willing to sit on any apologies.

Meanwhile, it remains uncertain whether taxpayers will ever recoup the brunt of the $15.4 million, due to contractual stipulations.

“We’re not giving up,” Giroux said.

Contact Kittle at mkittle@wisconsinreporter.com

 

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

  • redneckkk

    Hey, in the land of the university beaurocrats, overspending means—job security. And, if something doesn’t work it means—job security. Get it.

  • kaylwhite

    Someone did not write a very good contract! This is a University where people are expected to be smart…..right?

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