Should the state pay the company it hired to run the rebate program after Wednesday’s debacle?
AUSTIN -- The company in charge of Texas' much-maligned appliance rebate program has until the close of business Friday to formally explain what went wrong during Wednesday's coupon sign-up period.
Consumers seeking a rebate on the purchase of certain new energy efficient appliances were asked to log on to a Web site or dial a toll free number to request a coupon to be used at a later date. The Texas Comptroller's Office, which is in charge of the program, awarded an $875,000 contract to Minnesota-based Helgeson Enterprises to administer the phone lines and website which crashed Wednesday morning.
The lines were busy and the website had crashed when many Texans tried to log-on Wednesday to get their appliance rebate coupons.
"I was at my computer at seven in the morning, and I had my phone there. I tried to get online at 7 and I was blocked. I tried to call and the line was busy,” said Helen Smith of Brushy Creek. "It was frustrating and I don’t frustrate very easily."
State Comptroller Susan Combs is apparently frustrated, too.
"(T)he Comptroller was not satisfied with Helgeson's performance ... ," wrote Lisa Elledge, Stimulus Program Manager in the Comptroller's office, in a letter to the company. "Our office received numerous complaints throughout the morning and afternoon about the website being down or unavailable and wait times at the call center exceeding five minutes."
Elledge's letter was sent to the president of the company. A copy was also sent to the state Attorney General's office, according to the letter.
The letter gives Helgeston until the close of business on Friday to respond to the letter which requests a performance review, "so that (the Comptroller's office) may determine whether Helgeson is meeting the requirements of the contract."
Comptroller Spokesman R.J. de Silva says the state's contract with Helgeson has a maximum valued of almost $900,000; so far none of the money has been paid to the company.
"When you go through the contracting process, when you go through the procurement process, you’re making sure that everything is as airtight as possible in terms of the state being able to check on things,” he said.
According to the state letter, "...the contract requires that the website be available 24-7 with a minimum monthly uptime of 99.9 percent.”
The letter includes 11 other specific points.
Meanwhile, consumers like Smith, still have questions: She's been scouring the website for answers.
“Any of the websites they've given you, any of the phone numbers listed, there’s just not information there,” she said. “They give you a place for feed back and they got some from me this morning."