New Massachusetts unemployment insurance employer Web site crashes and burns upon launch

(Simulblogged here.)

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a convoluted(*) unemployment insurance system, under which employers are required to make various quarterly and annual filings and quarterly payments involving at least two different state agencies.

This system is administered by the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), who decided to replace their old, paper-based system with a Web-based system called QUEST ("Quality Unemployment System Transformation"). The DUA promised QUEST would bring countless improvements: one-stop shopping, filings for all agencies in one place, faster filings, less wasted paper, reduced printing and postage costs, reduced data entry costs, no more data transcription errors, etc., etc. You've no doubt heard it all before.

QUEST went live at the beginning of 2010. As of the go-live date, the usage of QUEST for all employer unemployment insurance transactions was mandatory; paper filings were no longer permitted. I.e., the DUA went straight from paper filings only to on-line filings only, with no transition period or overlap.(**)

It would be an understatement to say that the QUEST go-live is not going well; in fact, it is a disaster.

Some examples of the issues I've experienced trying to use the new system today to do my filing for the last quarter of 2009:

  • I received an email message informing me that there was correspondence in my QUEST inbox, and I should log into QUEST to read it. When I log into QUEST and click on the link for the correspondence in question, I get a .NET error page.
  • When I attempted to enter my quarterly filing numbers, I was asked to fill in the fields "UI gross wages", "UI taxable wages", and "UHI taxable wages", with no explanation on the form or anywhere else on the site of what these terms mean or how to determine the correct amounts. A DUA employee with whom I spoke today informed me that those words were supposed to be links that I could click on for definitions, but for some reason the links were missing from the page.
  • The two DUA employees with whom I spoke today both said that the new system is having innumerable problems across the board.
  • The first phone number I called today in an attempt to get help with QUEST was so swamped that I was not even given the option of waiting on hold -- a recording told me they were too busy to help me and I should call back later, and then I was disconnected.
  • A little while ago I tried to click on the QUEST login link on the DUA Web page and instead reached a DUA Web site error page indicating that the page I was trying to access had moved or was temporarily unavailable, or some such thing.
  • Some time after that, I tried again, and this time I actually got into the QUEST application, at which point I was greeted with a different error: "Error: You have reached the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance. The Quest Unemployment System is temporarily unavailable due to scheduled maintenance in order to better serve you. Please try your request again later. We appreciate your understanding." Given everything else that's going on, it seems highly unlikely to me that it is any way accurate to claim that this outage was "scheduled".
  • Earlier today, a new message showed up on the DUA Web site:
    Additional Time for 4th Quarter Filing and Account Activation
    >Two-week grace period for filing 4th Quarter Employment and Wage Detail Report. New deadline: February 16, 2010. Penalties apply after deadline. More.>Although the January 8th deadline has passed, you can still activate your account without a late penalty. Please activate your account as soon as possible to avoid the expected high volume of calls and web traffic near the filing deadline.

As is typical in government bureaucracies facing epic disasters, there has been no public disclosure of the fact that there is a problem, or of what is being done to fix it, or of the ETA for when it will be fixed. It remains to be seen whether anything will be disclosed later, or whether any heads will roll at the DUA in recognition of this monumental cock-up.

(*)Perhaps the system does not seem so convoluted to businesses, but it does to me, a "household employer" who is required to participate in it only because I've made the seemingly naive decision of attempting to abide by the law while employing a babysitter for six hours per week.

(**)At least, requiring QUEST filing as of 1/1/2010 seems to have been their original plan. However, a letter sent to employers January 14 encourages the use QUEST for filing 4Q2009 reports, which would seem to imply that not using QUEST is in fact an option. If so, it's a difficult option to exercise, since all instructions and forms for filing on paper appear to have been removed from Web site, or at least cunningly hidden.

Comments

I had exactly the same

I had exactly the same experience.

Although I have to say that after 45 minutes on hold, five transfers, I got ahold of "Ingrid" who was very sympathetic but ultimate unable to do anything at all.

The DUA filings used to be

The DUA filings used to be under Webfile for Business and used to work perfectly. I've been doing it that way for years, and it was a beautiful system that had no problems. Simple forms, quick to fill out, and they could take payments directly from your bank account. One login took care of all my state business filings, and I never had to mail anything in.

Now it's a separate login, messy multi-page forms, slow as molasses, and even with filing online I ended up having to mail in a check. All to replace a system that was working perfectly.

Some half-witted self-styled web developer owes me several hours of my life back, now and 4 times a year into the foreseeable future.

DUA filings

I, too, agree with Michael B - I have been filing electronically for years as well, and, although this new method has three times the amount of record keeping, I was informed the possiblity of in the futuer they could be doing away with the HIRD filings and the necessity of filing state copies of W2s. I was fortunate to find a jewel of an agent that was very helpful for what I needed, but his authority stopped at the internet security level. That being said, I have remained on hold for 4-1/2 hours (more than once) for internet security attempting to get passwords for the 2nd part of the activation which was completed BEFORE the site had the User ID and PW pop up at the end of the filing - very annoyed. The statement "your call is being answered in the order it was received" is nonsense. When Michael B finds that half-witte, self-styled web developer - I would like my pound of flesh as well.

mass quest charging interest

On top of all the problems and confusion with Quest we discovered that they are also overcharging businesses by mistakenly charging interest on amounts they are offering to defer. Beware - you are not required to pay interest.

If it ain't broke, why fix it?

I agree 100% with Michael B - I've always made my filings online through Webfile for Business and when I saw last year that DUA would be introducing a new system, my immediate reaction was "why are they replacing something that works perfectly well?" I suspect the answer is a turf war thing between the different agencies, Department of Revenue (who operate Webfile) and DUA.

Incidentally, I didn't experience the new site being "slow as molasses" (I actually found it pretty responsive compared to, say, the DOR Webfile sites) but maybe that's because I was making my 4Q09 filings very early in the month, before the rush of confused employers struggling to figure out how to enter their information.

Now, the new system is telling me that my business owes unpaid interest on the first two quarters from 2009 (even though everything had been filed on time and paid in full through the DOR system), and I've received not one, but three(!) letters from DUA in the past two weeks telling me that I have interest owing. I managed to get through on the phone to someone at DUA who was equally confused and promised to look into this, but unsurprisingly I've heard nothing back. Are any other employers experiencing anything similar?

Well, at least now I know it's not just me

I've been trying all week to file my company's quarterlies. Quest refuses to accept my ID and password, and so far I've gotten locked out twice. The first time, I managed to get a hold of a person at the Online Security number, who gave me a link to re-set the password. It was almost time to go home for the day at that point, so I got logged in, changed the password and wrote everything down so I could log back in the next day to finish. I did try at that point to file the wage report, however when I clicked on the link to that, I was told I couldn't file because I hadn't yet completed filing some other report, yet it didn't tell me how to get to that other report or what I needed to do, so I gave up and went home. Yesterday I go to log in, and Quest wouldn't accept the information at all, and voila, I was locked out again. Called the Online Security number again, sat on hold for at least half an hour, before the recording finally told me to just call back another time and hung up on me. It's absolutely maddening and frustrating. I'm only part-time as it is, I can't be spending half of my time or more per day trying to log onto this website or sitting on hold while the rest of my workload piles up around me. Thank God my employer signed up with a 3rd party payroll processor at the beginning of the year, and this will be the last time I will have to do the filings.

Mass Webfile for business worked so well and was so easy. Why'd they have to change it?

Yeah, um, I already mentioned that...

... in the text of my blog posting.

They didn't leave it out on purpose; they simply released the site with inadequate testing before it was actually ready for people to use. They do hint at the difference by having three different fields, one for "gross wages" and two for UI and UHI "taxable wages," but they don't explain anywhere what to put in the various fields. You can call them and sit on hold for hours before speaking to a human being who will explain it to you, or you can dig around on the Web to find the explanation.

As I also mentioned in the text of my blog posting, they also failed to explain the distinction between UI taxable wages and UHI taxable wages.

Here's the story, for those who are still searching for this information...

"UI gross wages" is any wages paid in the past quarter that will eventually be reported in box 1 on the employee's W-2.

"UI taxable wages" is up to 14,000 per year per employee from the UI gross wages. So, for example, if the employee has been paid $10,000 total as of the end of last quarter, you would include all of his wages for the quarter in this field. If the employee's total as of the end of two quarters ago was $10,000 and as of the end of the last quarter was $15,000, you would include only $4,000 for this employee in this field. And if the employee's total for the year as of the end of two quarters ago was $15,000, don't include any amount for this employee in this field.

"UHI taxable wages" is the same as "UI taxable wages," but ONLY IF YOU HAD SIX OR MORE EMPLOYEES. Employees with under six employees don't have to contribute to UHI, so for those employees, the value in this field should be 0.

And another thing!

I just spent FOUR HOURS trying to figure out that website and FORGET about the taxable wage stuff (thank you to jikamens for pointing out that UHI Taxable Wages only applies if you have 6 or more employees - that was KILLING ME!!! And of course it does not explain that ANYWHERE!). ADP usually does all of this type of work for us (THANK GOD!). But with ADP sending me letters about signing up on the QUEST website and the official documents from the Comm of Mass stating that our company is responsible for maintaining this account and telling me I had to file last quarters numbers, I thought WE had to take it over from now on. Finally, after four hours of pulling my hair out, I called ADP. Guess what? THEY STILL DO ALL OF THIS STUFF FOR US! We only had to sign up for an account. The person at ADP told me that the Comm of Mass has a list of all the companies that go through a 3rd party for this service, but they sent out their mailings to every single company anyway. So the tax in our, "taxable wages" is being abused (just ONE example) because some lazy state employees do not want to take the time and go through the files to see who they need to send these letters to, and who they don't. No wonder this website crashed and burned!!!

QUEST web design

I am not alone as I can see from all the comments so far.
I am a designer and as a professional I can certify that the new QUEST system is beyond atrocious. I tracked down the design firm responsible:
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/james-fenton/4/499/994
The website does not work with Safari on the Macintosh(leaving out 8% of the browsers in use).
It took hours of frustration and calling to figure that out.
I changed the browser to Firefox, after I was advised to get to a Windows computer to fill out the registration and in general for handling the tax issues...
And the electronic filing is MANDATED?
Where's the accountability? This system puts all of us through the hell of figuring out how to use and where to go. For a small company like mine, with under 6 employees and no resources to hire an outside vendor to handle the tax filings, it steals valuable time and energy. It was supposed to be an improvement, which is not.

Quest web sight is a horror

Quest web sight is a horror show. I wasted close to a hundred hours trying to file and pay my "contributions" this year. I was able to log in once this year while on the phone with them, back in january. Now in Nov,2010 I am still having this problem and cant seem to find help anywhere. Ma. has got to be the worst place to run a buisness!