University experts can help states decrease waste

Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute released a study on July 31 that details the recent efforts by IBM to update and modernize Pennsylvania’s computer systems. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the program is over 42 months behind schedule and has cost the state $166.9 million, over 56 percent more than the originally planned contract price.

As a result of the study, the state of Pennsylvania will not renew the contract with IBM.

The fact that Carnegie Mellon was chosen by Pennsylvania legislators to conduct this study is an indication of the university’s reputation as a premiere computer science and engineering school. Legislators should continue to consult experts in the field to make more informed decisions about such ventures.

This is hardly the first instance of a massive project failure in a government effort. From 2000 to 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation developed a Virtual Case File application, which updated the FBI’s information infrastructure from paper-based forms and documents to a more modern, digital solution.

According to the Gallup Business Journal, the project was cancelled for being unusable in real-world scenarios, and cost U.S. taxpayers $100 million.

Experts can objectively assess projects and scrap the wasteful ones before they become problematic. Perhaps further partnerships between educators, experts, and legislators can diagnose issues even earlier in the project development process, saving time and taxpayer money and ensuring the integrity of projects. For example, the University of Pittsburgh, equipped with one of the nation’s largest medical complexes, UPMC, could be consulted in matters such as healthcare reform or narcotics legislation.

These partnerships are vital to smart public policy developing and avoiding major financial waste. Had the SEI been brought on to evaluate the computer system development earlier, perhaps less money would have been wasted due to inefficient and unsuccessful projects.