The State Worker

Audit: Vets agency wastes $28 million on failed computer system

Veterans applaud a speaker during the grand opening ceremonies for the new Veterans Home of California in Fresno on Oct. 18, 2013.
Veterans applaud a speaker during the grand opening ceremonies for the new Veterans Home of California in Fresno on Oct. 18, 2013. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

California’s state auditor has labeled yet another California government technology project an expensive failure.

The California Department of Veterans Affairs has spent nearly $28 million on a system that launched years later than planned, wastes staff time and has not been fully implemented, according to an audit released Thursday by state Auditor Elaine Howle.

The audit marks the latest in a long string of California government technology failures. The auditor previously found data security weaknesses and unsatisfactory oversight on technology projects. Additionally, a payroll system update spiraled into chaos, licensing board software was delayed, and a tax and fee system stalled.

Howle’s latest audit found the Department of Veterans Affairs started with a plan to implement a comprehensive computer system so veterans who receive rehabilitative, residential and medical services would get “consistent and integrated care” no matter which facility they visited throughout the state. The idea was approved in 2006.

Setbacks started right away. CalVet didn’t hire a contractor for the project until three years later. From there, CalVet never fully developed oversight plans, according to the audit.

One veterans home that provides services for elderly and disabled veterans in Chula Vista timed administrative tasks and found that, on average, data entry takes twice as much time in the new system as the old system. Another home in Ventura reported that its staff has reverted to paper records because they don’t trust the new system.

Project management officials were aware of serious issues in mid-2012, but CalVet didn’t begin to address the issues until late 2013, the auditor found. Even then, the agency attributed the time complaints to employees being unfamiliar with the system.

“In retrospect, we could have moved more quickly or acted with greater urgency,” a CalVet official wrote in a response to the auditor’s report. The agency is pursuing a replacement system it hopes can be implemented next year.

CalVet eventually hired an oversight contractor, but the audit found that the individual’s “services were inadequate.”

The auditor recommended that CalVet detail concrete job responsibilities for project managers, develop processes for creating oversight plans, keep appropriate documentation and hire a separate contractor to conduct oversight on projects. The majority of the changes are expected to be made by September, the agency said.

Rachel Cohrs: 916-321-1046, @rachelcohrs