UW System CFO Says Job On Line For $81M IT Project

RYAN J. FOLEY

MADISON, Wis. (AP) ¿ The University of Wisconsin System's chief financial officer said Tuesday his job will be on the line if an $81.4 million information technology project fails.

The UW System's senior vice president for administration and fiscal affairs, Tom Anderes, told lawmakers he was responsible for the project to install a new payroll and benefits system and assumes he will be fired if it doesn't work.

His comments came in response to a question by Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, who expressed frustration that state officials in charge of previous projects that failed, costing a total of $170 million, were never held accountable.

Montgomery was one of several lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology who peppered UW System officials with questions about the project for 90 minutes. Lawmakers repeatedly expressed skepticism about the project, which already failed once at a cost of $28 million.

"You truly are at a crossroads with taxpayers," Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, told them. "It's going to be an interesting journey. A lot of eyes are seriously watching how you do this."

Montgomery told Anderes he was unhappy that lawmakers weren't told earlier about problems with the project contractor, Huron Consulting Group Inc. of Chicago, which is facing uncertainty after discovering accounting problems.

Top executives were ousted after the firm restated its earnings in August and its stock price dropped. The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation and the company is facing several shareholder lawsuits.

Anderes, appointed to his position last year after working at Texas Tech University, said lawmakers were not told about Huron's problems earlier because the system was still reviewing the potential impact. He said he was confident they would not affect Huron's work.

"When you have information, no matter what your confidence level is, share it with us," Montgomery responded.

Plans call for the new system to be implemented in 2012 to replace an aging 1970s program and to track pay, benefits and other information for 67,000 employees. The UW System Board of Regents approved the plans last month on the condition that additional safeguards would be negotiated to protect the system should Huron's problems have a damaging effect.

A contract amendment released Tuesday shows Huron agreed to take steps to keep key workers on the project. If any of them leave to work for another consulting firm, Huron must replace them within 10 days or pay $100,000 in liquidated damages.

Huron also would allow the system to hire key employees to finish the project should the firm no longer be financially viable and would pay additional damages for failing to perform.

Tuesday's hearing was the first for the Legislature's IT oversight committee since March 2008. After failing to do so for months, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan recently appointed members from his chamber to the panel so it could meet.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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