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System upgrade blamed for crashing of website that tracks Alaska spending

  • Author: Pat Forgey
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 17, 2015

JUNEAU -- The state's new financial system, dubbed IRIS, is aimed at simplifying the payment of the state's bills and was even claimed to be a way to improve transparency about where the state is spending its money.

But after one part of that project went live in July, the Integrated Resource Information System wound up disabling one of the state's existing transparency initiatives, the "Checkbook Online" website that posts spreadsheets listing state payments.

State Department of Administration officials say they're working to restore public access to what was once available, even if they may be months away from the new transparency that was once promised.

Spokesman Andy Mills said the department is "working on getting the information out of the new system and into the Online Checkbook."

He said he hoped it would again be reporting state spending by early October.

Checkbook Online was a leader in making government spending information public in 2007 when then-Gov. Sarah Palin ordered hundreds of thousands of expenditures posted online so they could be viewed by the public. Previously, getting the information often involved making public information requests to sometimes reluctant or busy state officials.

Coincidentally, at the same time Alaska was taking a new look at replacing its existing financial systems, one of which went online in 1985, and another in 1990.

The $87.7 million IRIS is expected to be complete by 2017. On July 6, a major part of that upgrade, the finance and procurement system, went live. But it did so without sending its data to Checkbook Online.

Mills said that's because the data needs to be "scrubbed" of confidential information, such as Child in Need of Aid payments and medical payments that are protected under federal privacy laws.

"They're trying to scrub the confidential information that we're not supposed to be reporting," he said.

He said the Division of Finance, which operates the system, hopes to have a solution by early October. Older data compiled in the previous system remains available on the division's website, but there's no notice about the missing monthly data since then.

Mills said no such notice was posted because they thought they were "so close" to getting the corrected data posted they were afraid of posting contradictory information on the website.

Next up for the IRIS project is the scheduled 2016 switchover to new human resources and payroll systems.

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