FSSA contractor ACS offering bonus incentives to employees


Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Marion - With a billion-dollar state contract at risk, 13 Investigates has discovered some pricey rewards being offered to welfare workers in Marion. In exchange, the FSSA call center employees would have to bail out contractors under fire by both state and federal officials.

Gift cards, a luxury vacation and even a chance to leave the small screens at work for a big screen TV at home - 13 Investigates has learned that is what is being offered by FSSA contractor ACS to workers in Marion to help save its troubled $1.34 billion state contract.

Workers hired at $9 an hour and then reduced to being paid by the call are now enticed to overcome a flawed system to get more welfare benefits to the Indiana's neediest.

13 Investigates showed the plan to Gov. Mitch Daniels, and asked him if he would ever think it was appropriate for a state employee to get big screen televisions and/or $250 gift cards as reward for their work.

"Well, not knowing anything about it, sounds like something we would probably not favor," the governor said.

Daniels does support spot bonuses and reward programs for state employees. Last year, agencies awarded $2.5 million for exceptional performance. This year already workers have received more than $400,000 despite wage freezes.

Generally the rewards are between $100 and $1,000 each. The governor says he just hasn't heard of any involving televisions.

After taking a closer look at the plan, he told 13 Investigates, "This is ACS so this is a contractor and they can have any program they want."

The ACS program isn't for a year of good work. It was launched days ago to face a September 30th deadline Daniels gave IBM and ACS to make drastic improvements or risk losing their contract.

September 30th is also the end of the federal fiscal year.

In a letter, 7th District Congressman Andre Carson asked the USDA to review Indiana's ability to continue privatizing food stamps.

Carson says his office has received numerous complaints about the state's efforts. "We don't see the efficiencies that were argued initially and we want to do something about it," he explained.

For ACS these are desperate times.

The incentive plan says the big screen TV is worth nearly $4,000, the vacation for two a $3,000 value, while online the going rate for 30 $250 American Express Gift Cards is nearly $8,000.

But in order to get the goods, employees must do what they and the new system have failed to do for almost 18 months:

Boost Quality Scores above 87 percent.
Reduce a backlog of more than 19,000 cases.
Reduce the percentage of Overdue and returned cases and improve timeliness by cutting dreaded waits.

All of the goals need to occur by September 30th.

"If they don't have it, they don't show any results, at the end of September, by the middle of October, they're going to start termination of contract proceedings. That's what we've been told," said State Representative Peggy Welch, a Democrat from Bloomington who sits on the State's Ways and Means Committee.

Walking papers could come sooner than later, if the USDA decides its $47 million in funding is being lost on a failing system.

"We're seeing a kind of leadership that has become dispassionate and disconnected from the people that they are charged to serve. So we want greater accountability," added Congressman Carson.

In a statement to 13 Investigates, ACS says it "has implemented an employee incentive program that is ultimately focused upon improving quality and the client experience. It is similar to any other program designed to award employees for extraordinary effort in serving their clients."

Carson, who co-authored the letter to the USDA with Congressmen Baron Hill, says he applauds the governor's steps to hold FSSA, ACS and its coalition partners accountable.

Related stories:

Former ACS workers highlight call center problems

Investigation reveals FSSA errors paid with tax dollars