State agency apologizes for wasting $700,000 on bad software

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. --The state's Emergency Management Division is apologizing after wasting $700,000 on a new software program to manage 911 finances. The software never worked and the state ultimately dumped it.

"We see that as a failure, a failure to our customers," said Communications Director Rick Patterson.

Normally, when we think of the state's Emergency Management Division -EMD - we think their responsibilities to guide the area through natural disasters or severe storm emergencies. But the EMD also controls state and federal money that gets doled out to 911 operations around the state -- about $28-million worth.

About four years ago, the EMD wanted to start managing that financial program digitally, buying a brand new technology program.

"Our goal was to save money, and to save staff time," Patterson said.

Instead the results were disastrous.

The technology software program the state bought wound up costing $709,000 -- including staff time -- and ultimately would have cost the state even more in the long run. Two investigations - one internal, one external - found fault with management and oversight. They also found there was no competitive bid process -- they actually piggy-backed on an existing contract with another state agency.

Patterson says the department clearly made mistakes.

"We're managing taxpayer's dollars and we need to be good stewards, and so the first thing we wanted to look at is how we could do a better job of managing those dollars," he said.

Two managers have since been moved out, and a third is subject to an ethics investigation.

"And we're going to do everything possible to ensure that never happens again," Patterson said. "That's just not acceptable."

Emergency management says they will never go without the competitive bid process again, and now the enhanced 911 program is under the direct supervision of the main office.