WDAY: The News Leader

Published September 15, 2010, 04:38 PM

Opponent Accuses ND Secretary of State of Bungling Tech Spending

North Dakota businesses must file paper forms and endure processing delays because Secretary of State Al Jaeger mishandled a technology project that would have allowed online filing of routine paperwork

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota businesses must file paper forms and endure processing delays because Secretary of State Al Jaeger mishandled a technology project that would have allowed online filing of routine paperwork, Jaeger's Democratic opponent said Wednesday.

Jaeger, a Republican, has spent more than $2 million over six years developing the project, which is now stalled because of financial problems at the company he hired for the job, Grand Forks state Rep. Corey Mock said during a news conference in Bismarck.

"Businesses in North Dakota cannot submit their registrations online, and that is just something that has been forgotten or ignored over the last four years," Mock said. He said Jaeger "has mismanaged this office, and cost taxpayers and businesses both time and money."

Jaeger said the project has been delayed, but he said its problems were beyond his control and not due to poor management. They have also been disclosed to a legislative oversight committee, of which Mock is a member, Jaeger said.

"Any independent, nonpartisan review of what has happened would easily confirm that everything that we've done has been done correctly," Jaeger said. "I think under the circumstances, we have done rather well, within the framework of the appropriations that were given to us, and the circumstances that we have been dealt."

North Dakota's secretary of state is known primarily as the state's top elections administrator, but record keeping makes up the bulk of the office's work. It keeps business registrations and reports, licenses contractors, is a repository for trademarks and trade names, and maintains a central indexing system of liens against crops, real estate and other property. A lien is a claim against property, typically filed by someone who is owed money by the property's owner.

The technology project is intended to develop a system that will allow the secretary of state's customers to do routine business online. Jaeger began exploring it six years ago, when he asked the Legislature for $500,000 to develop an online central indexing system for liens. Lawmakers approved $125,000.

In February 2008, Jaeger halted the project — which then focused on developing an online lien indexing system — after developers reported problems meshing its computer code with North Dakota's. The code was originally written for North Carolina's secretary of state.

Later that summer, CC Intelligent Solutions Inc., of Raleigh, N.C., was hired to develop a new system by June 2009, documents show. The deadline was later pushed forward by a year. The company had been an adviser on the earlier project.

Last May, a month before the deadline, CC Intelligent Solutions laid off most of its staff because of money problems, Jaeger said. The company still maintains it can complete the project, but it does not expect to finish the online central indexing system until September 2011. Software to handle the rest of the office's business services is not expected to be finished until June 2015, Jaeger said.

A spokesman for CC Intelligent Solutions did not respond Wednesday to e-mail and telephone messages left for comment.

Jaeger said he was exploring other options for finishing the project. "We need to have the project done as soon as possible," he said.

Mock said if he is elected, he will see whether the project can be salvaged or needs to begin anew. He suggested assembling a task force of North Dakota business people, technology providers and state government's Information Technology Department to quiz them on what features they believe are needed.

"I believe we should have done more consulting with North Dakota contractors and with the professionals that work with this system ... to prevent any of these mistakes," Mock said.