The State Worker

California lawmakers OK another $17.5 million for troubled tech project


Despite the Legislature’s concerns, a leading state lawmaker has authorized spending another $17.5 million on a flawed state computer system that has blasted its budget, fallen behind schedule and still doesn’t work as originally promised.

Next question: Who should pay for it?

In a letter to the Brown administration, Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said this week the Department of Consumer Affairs will get the money it requested a few months ago to shore up its BreEZe project.

While Leno said he won’t block the funds, he remains “concerned with (the Department of Consumer Affairs) management,” he wrote. The money, he stated, comes with the expectation of more updates to the Legislature.

When envisioned in 2009, the system was supposed to overhaul licensing and enforcement work for nearly 40 regulatory boards and bureaus for $28 million.

The system launched late. The public and government employees struggled to use it. As the problems mounted and costs rose, so did the system’s budget. The latest infusion of money puts the BreEZe budget at $96 million. Consumer Affairs will use the funds to finish a partial rollout by year’s end and then decide what to do next. Lawmakers decided that course was more prudent than forging ahead and running the risk of spending much more money to force a flawed project to conclusion. The department could have shut down the project immediately, but that would have left it obligated to pay the vendor tens of millions of dollars anyway.

By year’s end, BreEZe should be running for 18 of the 37 boards and bureaus in Consumer Affairs. So far, fee payers – from registered nurses to automotive repair shop owners – have paid for the system even if they’re regulated by a Consumer Affairs entity not using BreEZe.

The Legislature held several hearings to grill Consumer Affairs Director Awet Kidane and Technology Director Carlos Ramos about BreEZe costs and technology snafus before Leno said this week that the funds would be released.

Still, some legislators worry that fee payers will take an unfair hit in the wallet. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen said that the extra BreEZe costs will probably force some boards and bureaus to hike fees. She thinks California’s general fund should write the checks instead.

“Given that the problems associated with BreEZe are in no way the fault of the licensees themselves,” Olsen, R-Riverbank, wrote in a Thursday letter to Leno, “it seems only appropriate not to charge licensed professionals these additional costs.”

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

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