The State Worker Alert

California's biggest IT projects need $100 million to finish, Jerry Brown says

A group of sprawling, expensive state technology projects stands to gain another $100 million in spending under budget proposals advocated by Gov. Jerry Brown’s Office.

His administration is requesting the money to complete a $909 million accounting project, a $386 million project for prison inmate health records, a $281 million tax collection program and a $96 million professional licensing program.

The administration is also requesting almost $10 million to toughen up statewide cybersecurity.

Brown’s Finance Department released the requests after the governor unveiled his 2018-19 budget proposal in January.

The biggest project, the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal), aims to standardize the state’s accounting systems across the government.

It hit a significant hang-up last year when the State Controller’s Office delayed adopting the program. The Controller’s Office is a linchpin in state budgeting that manages payroll and produces comprehensive reports on state spending.

The new budget request would allow the Controller’s Office to hire 49 people by 2019-20 to manage the program. They’re needed, according to the finance department, because the Controller’s Office probably will have to use two accounting systems — the existing one and FI$Cal — until it’s confident that the new program works.

“As we’re bringing FI$Cal online, it won’t just be a hand off where if something for some reason is a problem there won’t be a backup or safety net,” said Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.

The positions would be funded outside of FI$Cal’s $909 million budget.

The most expensive item in Brown’s package of technology-related requests would free up $70.1 million for the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration’s new tax-collecting program. The department manages about 30 taxes and fees that generate about $64 billion in state revenue.

Most of the money in the budget request — $52 million — is set aside for private contractors working on the project. They’re paid when the program achieves certain milestones, such as hitting revenue targets.

The so-called Centralized Revenue Operating System is supposed to make it easier for the state to collect taxes and fees, which could increase revenue.

Lynda Gledhill, spokeswoman for the Government Operations Agency, said the state probably would not spend all of the money earmarked for the contractor in the coming budget year.

The rest of the money in the request would go to overtime and hiring a few more workers.

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The program is “completely on time and on budget,” Gledhill said.

The next largest request would steer $16.7 million next year and $13 million in 2019-20 to the Department of Consumer Affairs for its new professional licensing program, known as BreEZe. The department is using the program to process license requests for nurses and dozens of other professions.

BreEZe initially was supposed to be a $27 million program, but its cost more than tripled to $96 million.

The department is asking for the money so it can retain employees working on the program for another two years and continue paying software licensing fees.

The last major technology project requesting additional funding is one that provides a new medical record system for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It’s asking for $8.3 million next year and $7 million in the following year for software licenses, training and cloud storage to finish the $386 million project.

California state government has a well-documented history of embarking on costly technology projects that swell over time. The state is so large that it can’t buy off-the-shelf programs used by other states, and it often has to spend time and money adapting programs after they’re in use. The state Technology Department today is overseeing $3 billion worth of significant IT projects in various state departments.

Brown’s administration also is asking for $5 million to improve information security at the tax-collecting Franchise Tax Board and another $4.6 million for general cybersecurity for other resources provided by the Department of Technology.

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