Training holding back progress on new state records system

State government leaders in West Virginia have embarked on an ambitious $98 million project to combine all of its computerized records into one single program even though some of those involved are not completely satisfied with the contract awarded last year to a Canadian company.

It took years just to work out the details of the contract and the project itself is nowhere near completion yet. The massive system will be installed in four main stages beginning in the fall of 2013. One of the biggest hurdles is the need for state government to train a large number of employees on how to use the system.

This new electronic system is intended to manage all of the state’s accounts, personnel and assets in a fashion that should keep better track of taxpayers’ money and provide heretofore impossible levels of oversight. GCI, a Montreal-based technology company, was awarded the $98 million contract following a bidding process that consumed nearly a year.

State officials had more than 30 people helping with the process and the Legislature even hired its own consultant to review the plan before agreeing to pay the bill.

West Virginia currently has one computer system that state agencies use for some billing but many employees have insisted in recent years that that system isn’t good enough. This current program, called Financial Information Management System, is nearly a quarter-century old.

Prior to the acquisition of that system, according to news reports, the state merely used IBM Selectric typewriters to help maintain its financial records. An analysis by a technology consulting firm concluded to no one’s surprise that the state badly needed to “transform their financial systems, processes and organization.”

An indication of the pressing need for more modern technology came when an audit last year indicated the state Department of Environmental Protection had an accounting system that was not able to accurately track more than $19 million of funding that flowed through that agency.

As early as 2008, the state’s top technology official estimated it would cost $40 million to $60 million to provide the necessary improvements. But then the first round of bids was opened last summer, the three acceptable bids ranged from $80 million to $173 million. Since two other bidders were disqualified because their proposals didn’t meet the requirements, the state scheduled a second round of bids from the other acceptable bidders.

The state then accepted GSI’s bid of $98 million — with $13 million of that required merely to pay licensing fees for software. The new program has been dubbed Enterprise Resource Planning system, and is also identified as OASIS (Our Advanced Solution with Integrated Systems). The governor, state auditor and state treasurer constitute a three-member board to oversee the effort while a 16-member steering committee will advise them.

Meanwhile, high school graduates in West Virginia who have an overall score of 22 or more on the ACT test including a score of more than 20 on any subject test and maintain a 3.0-grade point average are eligible for the state-funded Promise Scholarship program. This program provides these students with $4,750 a year toward college tuition. Unfortunately, these graduates once again scored lower this year on the college readiness examination than the national average.

Students in West Virginia who graduated in 2012 earned an overall score of 20.6 — the same result as in 2011. The national average was 21.1 out of a possible 36, also the same as the previous year. Dr. Jorea Marple, the state superintendent of schools, admitted in a prepared statement that the education community “knows we must do better.” But there are some bright spots.

The ACT determines scores on each of its tests that it indicates are a “level of achievement” needed for a student to have a 50 percent chance or better of earning a B or better in an introductory college course. The testing company found that 70 percent of West Virginia students met this benchmark in English, compared to 67 percent of students nationwide.

Students from this state also did slightly better in reading with 53 percent achieving a benchmark score or better compared to 52 percent nationwide. The biggest problem was only 33 percent of West Virginia students had an acceptable score in math, which was 13 percentage points below the national average.

Finally, it seems almost impossible that political newcomer Rick Snuffer, currently serving a two-year term as a member of the House of Delegates from Raleigh County, could unseat Congressman Nick Jo Rahall, D-W.Va,, in the Third Congressional District. But the fact that officials at the Republican National Convention have given him a prime time speaking slot in Tampa suggests many in the party believe that it could happen.

This state, dominated by registered Democrat voters for decades, already has opted to elect Republicans to the other two congressional seats in West Virginia. And Snuffer has made it clear he will be talking about President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” that has even irked Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. But Rep. Rahall has held his seat for 36 years and figures to be heavily favored again.

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