Laid up California workers trying to collect disability benefits from the state at the end of 2012 were frequently frustrated by late checks or no checks because of problems with the state Employment Development Department’s (EDD) new computer software.
It didn’t have to be that way, and the EDD knew it, according to a whistleblower complaint filed by 20-year EDD veteran Michael O’Brien that was included in a 170-page document dump by the Los Angeles Times. The application architect sent a stream of e-mails to his superiors beginning in 2011, as the department prepared to roll out the new system, arguing that it wasn’t ready for prime time and was in danger of failure.
O’Brien also complained in person to his superiors about not having the promised personnel to install the system. He said the project design was incomplete, new software was incompatible with existing programs, problems were deemed fixed although they were not and he was forbidden from discussing these problems with co-workers and other responsible parties.
E-mails to O’Brien indicated the powers that be were frustrated he wouldn’t shut up, and he was reprimanded in November 2011 for “inefficiency, discourteous treatment, and failure to follow procedure.” He was removed from the project in August 2012 and filed a whistleblower complaint the next month, alleging that he had been retaliated against for his disclosures.
The complaint was rejected by the State Personnel Board in November 2012, which said he had not alleged any criminality, “gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.” He was told to stop badmouthing the contractor, Deloitte Consulting, and stop complaining about the same problems over and over again.
Upon launch of the new online claims system those non-existent problems plagued many of the 700,000 Californians who use the system annually for months, reducing on-time claims processing, the Times said, from 90% to 60%. The Orange County Register said on-time numbers for November and December 2012 were 41% and 31%, respectively.
A few months after the system went live, the Register told the story of Carol Dickey, a 61-year-old Anaheim registered nurse who filed for benefits as of the day she underwent surgery that would keep her from work for six weeks. Two months, and 75 fruitless phone calls, later she finally got a single check for all the back payments.