Federal funding resumes for troubled technology project T2

Six months after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton promised to clean up a flailing technology project $100 million over budget and years behind schedule, federal officials have agreed to resume funding for the 9-year-old effort.

News of Washington’s stamp of approval on T2 — a massive system upgrade intended to process child support payments and investigations at the attorney general’s office — is a bright spot in what has for years been a problem-plagued endeavor. In December, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement froze payments to the project.

On Tuesday, however, federal officials said the effort to build T2 was back on the path to success because of “a clear go forward strategy focused on ensuring good management of the project,” according to a letter sent to officials with the attorney general’s child support division.

The federal agency is footing two-thirds of the bill.

“We are pleased that, after a thorough review of the T2 initiative, our federal partners have endorsed the validity of the schedule, the new governance model, and the staff changes as the necessary strategy for successful completion of this project,” said attorney general spokesman Marc Rylander.

The funding approval came less than a week after Accenture, the technology company spearheading the project, threatened to walk away if the Office of Child Support Enforcement didn’t resume payments by May 16.

“Although our sincere desire to make T2 a success has not waivered, we can no longer endure the financial hardship that this situation has unfairly placed on us,” Accenture executive Steven Grattowrote in a letter to the state. “Simply stated, nothing in our agreement or any equitable principle requires us to work for free.”

Company spokeswoman Deirdre Blackwood said Wednesday that “Accenture is extremely proud of our work supporting the mission for the state of Texas Office of the Attorney General, and we look forward to continuing our collaborative relationship helping drive positive improvement for the T2 program.”

T2 was originally projected to cost $202 million. As of late last year, the price tag had soared to more than $310 million.

While T2 has gotten a fresh start from the federal officials, it still faces challenges, according to a report by University of Texas Center for Advanced Research in Software Engineering, which is monitoring the project for state and federal officials. The project is once again behind schedule — its launch date has now been pushed back five months to December 2018 — and officials are still trying to deal with inexperienced coders, turnover and other problems.

Yet the state has streamlined the T2 bureaucracy, making it easier for the team to make decisions, the UT report states. The project is being simplified, some of the code being written has improved, and there’s a more realistic work plan.

The technology project was launched in 2007 when Gov. Greg Abbott, then attorney general, decided to upgrade a decade-old system that was laboring to handle the growing number of child support enforcement cases. Officials wanted to get rid of paper case files, have the ability to access the system remotely and revamp the way they handled other tasks.

But by the time T2 hit the development stage, the project was hobbled by a myriad of problems, such as a bloated bureaucracy, poor quality work and a tendency to push off deadlines that couldn’t be realistically met. Numerous reports by the UT researchers raised red flags about the problems, which continued anyway.

In March 2015, shortly after Paxton took office, the attorney general began scrutinizing T2. In December, Deputy Attorney General for Child Support Mara Friesen told the Legislative Budget Board that, without immediate action, the project “would have resulted in runaway development costs, overly complex systems, increased maintenance costs and significant delays — even as much as well past 2020.”

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