By Katherine Gregg Journal Political Writer
PROVIDENCE — Think back almost three months ago.
On Sept. 7, a week before the Raimondo administration’s new $364-million computer system went live, The Journal requested all correspondence between the state and the company that designed it: Deloitte Consulting.
In the months since, the new computer system for dispensing public-assistance benefits — from subsidized health coverage to food stamps — has been beset by a long list of problems serious enough to merit threats by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service of a federal-aid cutoff.
During this same 12-week time frame, The Journal has repeatedly renewed its request for “correspondence,’’ including emails between the state and Deloitte “from May to the present” to help assess what the Raimondo administration was saying and doing behind the scenes.
The state’s public-records law requires a response within 10 business days, and allows a 30 business-day extension.
Without explanation, the administration has refused, since Sept. 7, to provide any correspondence between the state officials responsible for making the new “Unified Health Infrastructure Project,” known as UHIP, and Deloitte.
On the night before T h a n k s g i v i n g , A s h l e y Gingerella O’Shea, spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Health and Human Services (OHHS), provided The Journal with a thumb-drive. On the drive were reports on potential risks and performance issues that Deloitte produced for the state prior to the Sept. 13 launch. The most recent was dated Sept. 6.
By way of example: the Aug. 18, 2016, “Risk & Issues Register’’ anticipated a “communication” problem.
“Risk ... Imminent layoffs pose a threat that the project will be in the news in an unflattering light. ... It is possible that disgruntled employees could go to the press with their story, thus reigniting interest in [and coverage of] the story.”
In the last of the reports, Deloitte wrote: “Contingency planning started very late in the overall project schedule.... Two of the three agencies have not completed training on updated business processes that will lead to worker confusion as to how to apply the system on a day-to-day basis.”
If the state officials responsible for administering Rhode Island’s programs for the poor had any concerns, they are not reflected in the reports OHHS provided on Wednesday.
This was the relevant portion of The Journal’s initial request on Sept. 7, for which the Raimondo administration on Oct. 7 sought pre-payment from The Journal of $1,860.
“All correspondence related to the testing, performance, functionality and launch of the new system. ... All correspondence/documentation that discusses the launch date[s] and possible postponement of the September 2016 UHIP Phase 2 launch. ... All correspondence to and from Deloitte.’’
On Oct. 19, Jennifer Wood a top aide to Elizabeth Roberts, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services agreed during a meeting to waive the $1,860 after The Journal narrowed the time frame of its request for correspondence to a critical period running from May 2016 “to the present.”
“With that narrower field,” Wood said, “I think we can really have a meaningful response for you, ... and if it’s not meaningful, you’ll tell us and we’ll go from there.”
On Nov. 23, OHHS lawyer Deborah George told The Journal in a letter that the flash drive the state was providing that day contained:
“Communications between Deloitte and State of RI regarding testing and readiness of the Integrated Eligibility and Enrollment System for Health and Human Services [UHIP] — May 2016 through September 2016 Go Live.”
There was no correspondence included, as had been agreed upon on Oct. 19.
The Journal intends to appeal.
Asked if there was, in fact any correspondence — and if so, why the administration withheld it — O’Shea issued this statement:
“OHHS and [Department of Administration] employees have spent dozens of hours reviewing and retrieving hundreds of documents that we provided to Ms Gregg at no cost, in response to her broad records requests including detailed documents which are responsive to her questions about correspondence regarding the testing of the UHIP system We are confident that we have fully complied with the state’s open records laws.’’