Questions linger over NM’s $48 million computer system for the unemployed

By Rob Nikolewski on October 23, 2013
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By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The troubled $48 million computer program handling New Mexico’s unemployment taxes and claims has dramatically improved, the secretary of the state’s said Wednesday.

But at least one state senator is skeptical.

said average telephone wait times on Mondays — typically the busiest day for those seeking benefits — are stuck at one hour, but the computer program “is operating great” and handling 21,000 people every week.

“If there’s still a wait on Mondays after we’ve spent $48 million on the system,” said state , “well, it seems there should be no wait.”

DEFENDING THE SYSTEM: A computer system costing $48 million has been the focus of criticism for New Mexico’s Workforce Solutions Department.

After appearing before the , Bussey said the system is already improving the job performance at the DWS and will work well for the state for years to come.

“I think the end of 2013 … is going to be huge in terms of where we can show efficiencies gained by all our customers,” Bussey said.

For months, the DWS has been , which rolled out in 2010 under the administration of then-Gov. Bill Richardson and has still been the target of complaints three years into the administration of current Gov. Susana Martinez.

In July, an for being so complex it has been amended five times and required two other companies to be hired for project management and programming support.

Bussey defended the computer system, saying it has helped the department disburse payments and handle claims more efficiently while allowing 95 percent of businesses to file online and 62 percent of employers to take advantage of paying online.

“We have no downtime, so we don’t have ,” Bussey said. “(Nevada) launched their modernization system and it didn’t come up for four or five days. They didn’t pay people.”

for state unemployment offices because claims are often turned in by Sunday,and customers often clog the phone lines to learn whether their checks were processed.

“I would still love for the average wait time to be lower,” Bussey said. “I wholeheartedly am never going to be comfortable with somebody waiting on hold for an hour. I don’t care if it’s a Monday.” Bussey said wait times on Thursdays and Fridays generally drop to 15 minutes.

Bussey and DWS officials told the LFC on Wednesday that, because of federal budget cuts, the department needs an additional $11.4 million in the coming fiscal year.

“If that money comes out of (personnel at WFS), that means I have less people to answer the phone,” Bussey said. “That hour (wait time) will become two hours, will become four hours.”

About 70 percent of $11.4 million requested is connected to maintaining and improving the computer system.

When asked by whether, given the program’s problems, it was wise for taxpayers to spend more money on the computer system, Bussey said the IT program is designed to last for years. “We don’t want a $48 million investment become a dinosaur in the blink of an eye,” said Bussey.

“It seems to me that they’re working through the kinks on that,” said state .

Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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