The State Worker

California was warned of computer system’s troubles

The Department of Consumer Affairs  in Natomas has been coping with a flawed licensing software system.
The Department of Consumer Affairs in Natomas has been coping with a flawed licensing software system. Sacramento Bee file

Before the panicked phone calls and the embarrassing state audit, Ganesh Kumar knew the BrEze computer program would flop.

For seven years, Kumar has worked at the Board of Registered Nursing’s call center where he uses computer data to answer questions when nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing school graduates want to know the status of their license applications or renewals.

So Kumar was all for it when Department of Consumer Affairs officials six years ago announced a new $28 million, off-the-shelf computer program, BrEze, would replace obsolete, narrow systems used by the board and most of the other 39 regulatory agencies.

After all, those entities annually handle a combined 350,000 licenses and 1.2 million license renewals for professionals and businesses from doctors and barbers to smog-check shops.

“I like to learn new stuff and I thought this would help us and help consumers,” Kumar said, so he volunteered for early training. “Then I figured out that this is not what was promised.”

Early on, BrEze had 1,700 defects, according to a recent state audit, and nearly three years after its launch it still suffers from poor planning and poor oversight. Its budget is now $96 million, more than triple the original estimate. Some problems are fixed, but many remain.

A few easy-to-understand examples, according to Kumar:

▪ The renewal system is so cumbersome that the board published a 20-page, step-by-step guide for it, but users still get trapped. The address page, for instance, requires that applicants add their country, even though there’s no prompt to indicate it.

“One operating room nurse told (me) she found it much easier assisting at an open-heart surgery using robotics than navigating the BreEZe website,” Kumar said.

▪ An incorrectly entered birth date or Social Security number on a background-check file sends license applications into limbo because BrEze doesn’t track those discrepancies.

“We have to wait until a complaint comes in” to know there’s a problem, Kumar said, then manually track down the file and fix it.

▪ Nurses used to get a temporary license over the counter after clearing the background check, Kumar said. Now it takes up to eight weeks because BreEze isn’t flexible.

Before BrEze went online, Kumar emailed his superiors that BreEze was a “quagmire.” An unsigned reply dismissed his concerns, so Kumar reached out to lawmakers. They ordered the audit amid a flurry of bad press.

That review accurately portrayed the mess, Kumar said, but it stopped short of blaming nursing board delays on BreEze. Auditors said no one tracks information needed to support such claims.

“I don’t think they spent time with the workers,” Kumar said. “We could have showed them.”

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. For more columns, go to Sign up for State Worker email alerts at

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