The State Worker

California state IT office faces hiring, retention challenge

A plan to create a special unit of IT experts who would manage California’s state government technology projects has merit, a new report states, but several uncertainties remain about how it would be implemented.

One key question: Can the state recruit and retain qualified technology experts needed to make the program work?

With what has become regular announcements of big-bucks state IT failures, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed creating a crack Project Management Office within the Department of Technology. The new office could do everything from advising on projects to taking over their day-to-day management for departments without the in-house expertise.

The state has about $4.6 billion in technology initiatives in the pipeline. Of those, the budgets for the five largest total $2.6 billion. FI$Cal, which aims to consolidate the government’s vast patchwork of aging financial databases in 2017, is expected to cost $673 million.

Currently, CalTech approves and oversees projects, but their daily management is left to the departments that will use them.

“There is consensus that poor project management has been a significant – although not sole – contributor to the serious problems state IT projects have recently experienced,” the report prepared by analyst Lourdes Morales states.

While centralizing management makes sense, recruiting and retaining qualified staff “will be critical to the ultimate success of (the office),” the report states.

Of course, that’s always been a problem for the state. IT consulting salaries in the private sector pay at least double government wages for comparable work. The new office might overcome some of that, the report says, because the new positions will be “better positioned ... because of the permanent nature of the positions and a career pathway the office could offer.”

But a strong central state technology management operation could have a downside for departments by cannibalizing talent.

If that happens, “CalTech may need to provide project oversight to more departments over time,” the report says, “as they are unable to recruit and retain qualified staff resources.”

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