CMU to continue to help Pennsylvania deal with workers' claims

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HARRISBURG -- The state's Department of Labor and Industry will extend a contract with Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute to continue to analyze Pennsylvania's problem-plagued unemployment compensation management system.

Last year, the department refused to further renew a major contract with IBM to modernize the unemployment system, saying the project was too far over budget and behind schedule.

The department had previously retained the university's Software Engineering Institute as part of a contract of up to $5 million to review the IBM contract and provide other services.

The institute "is a world premier organization that has provided invaluable assistance to [the department of Labor and Industry] to date," according to information posted about the contract on the state's online procurement site.

"It has not only the expertise needed but also now a familiarity with both [the Unemployment Compensation Management System] and L&I's legacy system. L&I's current legacy system has been operating since 1970. At some point the system may cease to function," according to information the department of Labor and Industry listed in procurement documents.

Advocacy groups have long lamented extensive call wait times and other problems for workers filing unemployment claims. Call wait times can often be over an hour, said Edward Ehrhardt, chief legal officer at the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, which assists unemployed workers in filing claims and appeals.

The Software Engineering Institute “will help us make some informed decisions” about the unemployment system overall and in particular about the wage and tax application portion of the system, which is used by employers, said Sara Goulet, a spokeswoman for the department of Labor and Industry.

The Software Engineering Institute referred questions about the contract to the state.

Kate Giammarise: 717-787-4254 or or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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