Public record requests delayed by state computer switch

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Public records requests from The Detroit News and others were delayed in recent weeks as the state of Michigan implemented a massive new computer system, the latest snag associated with the $178 million overhaul.

A Freedom of Information Act coordinator with the Michigan State Police said that multiple public records requests were slowed because the department was not aware of fee payments at the time they were made through its online portal.

The News paid a $137.21 deposit on Oct. 30, but the department did not receive receipt until Nov. 13, slowing processing by two weeks.

There were “other instances,” said state police FOIA supervisor Lori Hinkley.

“We did (have problems) initially when we converted to the new system,” Hinkley said. “I think those are all taken care of, but we’re not aware of them until somebody brings them to our attention.”

Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the State Budget Office, confirmed there were “hiccups” associated with FOIA payment processing as the state launched its new Statewide Integrated Governmental Management Application, known as SIGMA.

But the hiccups were attributed to coding issues within departments that used a certain payment system, not any problem with the computer program itself, Weiss said.

It is difficult to know how many FOIA payments were delayed, he said, but “it’s safe to say it was not widespread.”

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act, a transparency law designed to guarantee access to public records, prescribes defined timelines for government responses but leaves wiggle room for processing times.

The state launched the SIGMA computer system in October and initially struggled through some payroll glitches. Most issues have been resolved, but the state is still sorting out delayed reimbursements for state employees who paid travel expenses out of their own pocket, Weiss said.

“Bottom line, for a massive implementation like this, it’s gone very, very well, but we have had some bumps like you would have with any implementation,” he said. “We’ve fixed many of those here in the past few weeks.”

CGI Technologies and Solutions, a Canadian-based company with an office in downtown Lansing, is lead contractor on the SIGMA project to upgrade the state’s financial and business processes.

The Lansing State Journal reported that about 200 state workers were underpaid last month because the system did not correctly process overtime.

The state was forced to use default timesheets for state employees during initial pay cycles, Weiss said, meaning they were generally paid for 80 hours over two weeks regardless of how much they actually worked.

“Those have all returned to normal processing levels,” he said. “We got everybody paid.”