Administration names independent reviewer for Vermont Health Connect woes

The state has selected the same firm that conducted the initial review of Vermont Health Connect to perform the post-mortem called for by Gov. Peter Shumlin to examine the exchange's fitful rollout.

Richard Boes, the state's chief information officer, confirmed in an email Friday that Vermont had selected Maine-based consulting firm BerryDunn to perform the review.

Vermont is required by statute to conduct an independent review of all IT projects that surpass the $500,000 threshold, and in the case of Vermont Health Connect, that initial review was also performed by BerryDunn.

Five months after the website launched it still lacks significant functionality and some users find it difficult to navigate.

State officials hope the review will help them analyze what went wrong, and how they can improve the execution of IT projects in the future.

Despite the website's shaky condition, Vermont has the highest enrollment figures in the nation - thanks largely to insurers directly enrolling small businesses and exhaustive efforts by state employees to manually perform functions the site was supposed to automate.

Administration officials did not return calls for further comment on their choice of BerryDunn, and were unable to provide a copy of the contract, its cost or scope.

At a news conference earlier in the week, Shumlin touted changes enacted by his administration to improve procurement and avoid the mishandling of IT projects.

"We've taken the lessons of past administrations and of this administration, and we believe we set up a structure that will be more likely to assure us success," Shumlin said.

The initial review performed by BerryDunn is part of that new structure, but Boes said this after-the-fact review is unique.

"The process we are going through now is to review lessons learned through an independent contractor and we are terming it 'lessons learned/implementation assessment' to keep it separate from the independent review process already completed," Boes wrote in an email.

When Shumlin announced the review, Republicans in the Legislature requested a role in selecting the contractor, and suggested that allowing the administration to select one of its preferred vendors would compromise the review's integrity.

It would be unusual for the Legislature to be involved in the selection process for an executive branch contractor, and there could be legal hurdles to its participation, according to Robin Lunge, the state's director of Health Care Reform.

A request for proposals went out to four companies on the state's preferred vendor list in early January.

The state's request asked the prospective reviewers to help Vermont evaluate its approach, staffing and management structure, and what lessons there are to reduce risk and improve implementation of future projects.

The authors of the RFP said the contract would be awarded based on proposal quality, cost, prior experience and the timeline for the review.

The findings will be presented to state officials and at two public stakeholder meetings, the according to the RFP.


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