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Modernizing outdated CA computers off schedule

January 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Another worry for California's new governor, Jerry Brown: In a state that's home to Silicon Valley, California's in-house computer system is badly out of date. A massive computer modernization project is in deep trouble.California is the birthplace of technology with some of the world's best products invented right here. But somehow that innovation stopped short of Sacramento.

"You would think we would have access to the best and brightest people having to do with information technology," said Jon Coupal, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The state auditor this week warned Governor Jerry Brown about California's latest effort to modernize its computers and its problems.

FI$Cal, the $1.6-billion 12-year project that started in 2006, is four years behind schedule, $300 million over budget -- and the top two project leaders just quit.

"We have some pretty significant concerns about how successful this project is going to be," said California State Auditor Elaine Howle.

FI$Cal's interim director says they'll be hiring executive replacements within a couple of weeks and the project should be back on track.

"We're doing our best to move the state forward, and we think we're doing a good job of that," said FI$Cal Interim Director Michael Reyna.

The computer modernization project is part of a long history of technological screw-ups by Sacramento. The projects often fall short in performance and cost more than anticipated.

In 1994, then-Governor Pete Wilson scrapped a DMV computer project after the state spent $50 million on a system that didn't work.

In 2008, a $1.5-billion computer project was supposed to better track child-support payments, but California still has one of the worst collection rates in the country.

"I would note we are working with the three top vendors in the United States: CGI, IBM and Accenture," said Reyna.

"It's late, it's expensive. Yes it does worry us," said Coupal. "Again, it's another example of how taxpayers are not getting very good value for their taxpayer dollars."

The non-partisan State Legislative Analyst recommends scaling back the project, but it's up the legislature and new governor to decide the direction.