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.