As soon as the state tries to fix one problem (like a massive backlog in discrimination complaint investigations), something else gets screwed up.
Right now, there’s a persistent glitch with the agency’s central computer system that the state’s technology gurus haven’t been able to fix. And that means CHRO officials can’t tell exactly how well new reforms initiated by Gov. Dannel Mallow are working and how many of those old backlogged cases are being resolved.
The problem involves access to past files on complaints to the agency, which makes it more than a little difficult to tell what is happening with hundreds of old cases.
“We get 1,500 to 2,000 complaints a year,” says CHRO spokesman Jim O’Neill. “And I can’t access them … Now I can’t find out a damn thing.”
Jeffrey Beckham, a spokesman for the state Department of Administrative Services, says the computer foul-up is being worked on. But it’s apparently giving the state’s techies fits.
“I believe our people are trying to understand the issue and help [the CHRO staff] with that,” says Beckham. “It doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable problem.”
Beckham says the CHRO’s four regional offices can access their old files. Unfortunately, that apparently doesn’t help the people trying to keep track of how the agency is performing as a whole.
O’Neill says the glitch with the data banks means CHRO’s top officials “can’t tell what the regions are doing in catching up with the backlog.” It has also prevented the anti-discrimination agency from keeping up with its annual reporting mandates.
The difficulties with pulling data out of the CHRO’s computers have been creating headaches for more than two years now, according to O’Neill, ever since one of the agency’s in-house computer guys retired. “This has been going on since December 2010,” he says.
If this sounds all too much like Connecticut government as usual, perhaps you’ll feel better knowing that the technical staff responsible for fixing state computer problems now have a glitzy new name for their outfit. They used to work for the state Department of Information Technology or DOIT, and liked to give the agency’s acronym the upbeat pronunciation of “DO IT!” (Many state employees, frustrated with inadequate and outdated computer systems, often revised that to “DON’T DO IT.”)
Under Gov. Malloy’s new state reorganization plan, DOIT was folded into the state’s umbrella administrative department and renamed the Bureau of Enterprise Systems & Technology. Which translates into the equally upbeat acronym of “BEST.”
The name change apparently hasn’t helped the tech unit’s rep much at the CHRO.
The CHRO was created to investigate complaints of discrimination in areas such as housing, employment and education. It’s supposed to complete its investigation of a complaint, and either close the case or take action within 370 days of getting the complaint.
Last year, the state auditors cited the agency for failing to meet that deadline in 56 percent of the cases filed between 2007 and 2009. One reason was that Connecticut’s budget problems resulted in the CHRO staff being chopped over that period from 103 to just 73.
So the legislature pushed through some reforms to speed up the bureaucracy, and Malloy’s administration authorized the hiring of five new employees. “It’s much improved under Gov. Malloy,” says O’Neill.
The reforms include allowing the CHRO’s executive director to toss out feeble cases where there’s no reason to believe any discrimination has happened, or in situations where the person making the complaint fails to show up for a hearing.
O’Neill says the reforms are “resolving cases faster” and that the CHRO’s legal division is tracking how swiftly new complaints are being processed.
But until the computer problems are solved, there’s no good way to find out what’s happening with those backlog woes.
“So we don’t know if we’re catching up,” says O’Neill.
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