The State Worker

The $3.75 billion question: Can California do big IT right?

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With California committed to several billion dollars for a handful of massive state-technology overhauls, an annual ritual has returned to the Capitol: hearings into why big-bucks IT projects fail.

On Monday, for example, a joint committee will haul Department of Consumer Affairs officials into a hearing on the BreEZe project. The system, intended to revamp business processes for 37 regulatory boards and bureaus, could wind up costing more than three times its original $27 million budget and faces an uncertain future. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will co-chair.

Next month, Democratic Sen. Richard Roth’s budget subcommittee will take its second whack at BreEZe after grilling Consumer Affairs Director Awet Kidane about it last week.

On Thursday, a state Senate subcommittee chaired by Hill will take a broader look at why high-dollar IT projects have failed over the last few years and what can be done to prevent future snafus.

The hearing will undoubtedly ratchet up scrutiny on the Department of Technology’s oversight role in state computer projects. A report released by State Auditor Elaine Howle this week said the department is hamstrung by high staff turnover, serves potentially conflicting duties a both IT developer and watchdog, and fails to effectively wield its power to delay or cancel troubled programs.

Technology Director Carlos Ramos said that his department has already fixed many shortcomings noted in the audit and is working on the rest.

The state has spent about $900 million on three stalled or terminated IT projects in the last few years: a failed overhaul of California’s state payroll system, DMV’s canceled driver’s license and vehicle registration project, and a statewide court system that burned through a half-billion dollars before it was shut down.

Future failures could be even more costly. The combined budgets for the state’s dozen most expensive projects in the pipeline total $3.5 billion, according to the Technology Department.

Will anything come of legislative hearings into state IT? Weigh in with our poll.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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