The Puerto Rico Education Project (PREP) was a contract funded by the US government for the Puerto Rico Department of Education. This contract specified the installment of a large mainframe computer and associated hardware for a system to assist the Department in evaluating the results of education programs funded by the Federal government, and development of a large database containing data about all the students, teachers, and schools throughout the island. The cost of hardware was about $5 million and system design and development would cost another $10 million, consisting of primarily or personnel costs over the course of three years.
USCO determined that in order for this large project to be executed properly and on-time, they would have to move a total of about 30 employees out to Puerto Rico for the three years to work. Project personnel and their spouses and/or children would also bee moving from the Washington D.C. area, to Puerto Rico with them. These moves were quite expensive for the company, which is why it was prudent to hire the right people. In addition to moving, there was a language and cultural barrier associated to moving to the island of Puerto Rico from the U.S. and it was USCO's responsibility to ease these barriers for the families by providing housing, schooling for the project personnels children and enough money to cover the increase in living costs.
Contrary to "working and living in paradise", in became evident that the living conditions were considerably different that had been expected. Living costs were about 15% higher than in the US, especially at supermarkets because Puerto Rico imports many products in from the US and other countries. Another problem that surfaced immediately was schooling. In total, there were about 15 children among the families in the project, and the school system in Puerto Rico was mediocre with very old and poor facilities. Private school was the next best option, however this ran up to $2500 per semester per child, which USCO was resistant to paying for and resulted in an increase in salary for the employees just to cover tuition.
In addition to the resistance for compensation for increased living expenses, USCO seemed blind to the level of poverty, and with such poverty, comes high crime rates. Also, the company provided each family with only one car, leaving the spouse and children stranded at home with neighbors who speak little to no English. Another problem was the lack of telephone service. Most families did not obtain a phone for the first year of the project.
Aside from the problems associated with the families settling down, the PREP Project proved to be troublesome as well. The system to be developed was not well defined and the 800,000 pupil files seemed to be more than what was manageable. There were also problems with mainframe computer not being delivered on time as well as data collection. These many setback resulted in a low morale amongst employees and this adversely impacted productivity.
Evaluation of Alternatives
About two thirds of personnel and their families wanted to return back to the U.S. but Tom Ballard knew that it would not be a good idea to allow those who wanted to move back. The expense of sending them back was also considerable especially since the investment had not been recouped. There also wasn't a promise of much work back in the U.S. because business had been slow.
I would recommend that USCO increase the compensation for project personnel and improve both living and schooling environments. This includes, providing families with two vehicles, paying for better private schools, and offering language and cultural classes designed for the many levels or knowledge each family may have. If it costs too much money to send them back to the U.S. prematurely, USCO must provide some incentive to the project personnel and their families to convince them to stay in Puerto Rico, as well as truly enjoy their time there. USCO must realize that they made the families of their project's personnel pick everything up and leave, and they must be accommodating to their needs, within reason. Which means providing them with the essentials.