- Laura A. Bischoff Columbus bureau
A three-year effort by Ohio lawmakers to computerize the tracking of constituent emails, letters and phone calls has run into so many problems that one vendor was dropped, the bill to taxpayers has soared to $1 million and fewer than one-third of the state’s 132 legislators are currently using the system.
General Assembly staff began looking at systems three years ago to replace a hodge-podge of paper files and spreadsheets used by lawmaker aides to track constituent correspondence. But Senate staffers last year pulled the plug on the Intranet Quorum system from Lockheed Martin Desktop Solutions after staffers complained it was too cumbersome and didn’t mesh well with the email system.
The Senate, which spent $264,297 on a system that was abandoned after two years, switched to a new vendor, Affiliated Resource Group.
“We expected the system to improve over time as we shared our feedback. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen to our satisfaction, so we decided not to renew our licensing agreement,” said Ohio Senate Chief of Staff Jason Mauk in a written response to Dayton Daily News questions. “It wasn’t a contract issue; we just simply decided that the Lockheed product, and particularly their limited customer support, would not be the best long-term solution for the Senate.”
The Senate and the Ohio Legislative Information Systems agency paid Affiliated $380,892 for the new Microsoft-based system and the Ohio House paid Affiliated another $379,811 for its share. While 36 of 99 House members are using the new system, it is not yet operational for the 33 Senate offices.
Using software to tracking and catalogue correspondence makes good business sense, given that Ohio lawmakers receive thousands of emails, letters and calls from constituents every year, said state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Fairlawn.
“Absolutely. It’s about efficiency and making sure we are delivering good services to our constituents,” LaRose said.
But complaints about the Lockheed Martin system were widespread. State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said her staff found the system too cumbersome and clunky — it took more than 15 clicks to process a single email.
“I’m not all that tech savvy to begin with. I’m interested in the end result. When I have constituents concerned about education issues, I want to be able to contact them or when I have constituents interested in energy issues, I want to be able to communicate with them,” Lehner said. “There is no question that this is a valuable thing to have. It’s unfortunate that the first one didn’t work as expected.”
Senate Republican Caucus spokesman John Fortney said the Lockheed system was available to all 33 Senate offices for two years. “It wasn’t a waste of money whatsoever,” he said.
But internal correspondence among Senate staffers show concerns about performance were deep-seated.
“This whole time commitment makes my stomach turn, we have so much invested in IQ that we’ll never come close to recovering,” wrote Angelika McClelland in an Oct. 8, 2013, email to Senate IT manager Clint Morefield.
McClelland is a former Ohio GOP party worker who has served as a special projects coordinator and aide to Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina.
In a separate email to her supervisors in 2013, McClelland said: “Not sure yet if we toss the lemon or make lemonade, but I think we will be able to come to that conclusion later this fall.”
System used widely
Mauk said said the Lockheed system is tailored for Congressional offices or government agencies and less suited for state legislative offices.
“The Senate provides services and support to 33 elected officials. A congressional or gubernatorial office provides services and support to one elected official,” Mauk wrote in response to a question why the system would work for congressional staff and not staff for the Ohio Senate. He did not offer further explanation.
Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Samantha Nevels said the company does not comment on current or former clients but she noted that IQ system is used by 270 U.S. House members, 60 U.S. Senators and 20 governors as well as by a majority of states — either lawmakers, agencies or other offices.
Among Lockheed’s Ohio customers are U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who uses it to process 40,000 emails each month, and Gov. John Kasich, who uses it to handle 3,300 letters per month. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, also uses IQ as does the Ohio Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Senate project began in March 2012 when Kevin Bingle, then digital media director for the Republican Caucus, started researching systems that could easily track and catalog the thousands of constituent inquiries and contacts lawmakers receive and respond to each year. Bingle declined comment for this story.
Lockheed pitched Intranet Quorum as a world class correspondence system that can track all contacts, consolidate information and manage documents. It has tens of thousands of licensed users.
An early project schedule from Lockheed predicted the system would be live by Sept. 7, 2012. But by late 2013, Senate managers were negotiating a new deal with Affiliated Resource Group, a suburban Columbus firm that customizes Microsoft products. By that point, the Ohio House was working with Affiliated for a similar constituent tracking system.
House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe said the House hired Affiliated after considering proposals from nearly 10 vendors in mid-2013 and after hearing feedback from the Senate on Lockheed’s system.
The new system, currently used by 36 of 99 House members, is still being rolled out.
Mauk said IT staffers are working on getting the system operational for all 33 Senate offices.
“Some offices have completed that process, and others have asked to wait until the software can be adapted to their needs,” he said.