State on verge of major expansion of IT role

California government is in the midst of a major push into information-technology development that envisions 1,000 IT new hires over the next few years, more attention to larger, more complex contracts and a dramatic ramping up of the office that will ride herd on the state’s computer systems.

For the first time, those plans–already approved by the governor and described in his 2007-08 budget–include financing the office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). The budget’s $7.9 million proposal includes up to four dozen staff members, half of them to track and negotiate IT contracts, said state CIO J. Clark Kelso. Thus far, the office has not been funded, noted Kelso, a Democrat, who has served as CIO since 2002 under former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and incumbent Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He said the combination of tightened contract supervision, expanded technology services and a new, independent IT staff will soon be felt.

“It will hit us like a freight train. It will begin hitting us next year,” Kelso told an audience of several hundred vendors at the Government Technology Conference West. “Those 1,000 jobs–these are not redirected positions. These are new hires. There is a lot of hiring that is going to get done.”

Traditionally, California’s involvement with IT has uneven at best–and scandalous at worst.

Revamping flawed systems handling court-ordered support payments and information at the Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, cost millions of dollars to rectify. A $95 million software contract with Oracle Corp, pushed through in May 2001 by the Davis administration, sparked legislative hearings after questions were raised about the pact itself, the role of top Davis personnel in getting the contract approved and Capitol influence peddling.

Kelso, a McGeorge Law School professor with a reputation as a government trouble-shooter, was brought into fix California’s IT woes in the wake of the Oracle scandal. At the time, state Auditor Elaine Howle issued a scathing report about the state’s role, saying the pact was negotiated by inexperienced state personnel who accepted the claims of the contract’s backers but ignored evidence that the pact was unnecessary. Earlier, Davis asked Kelso to temporarily head the Department of Insurance after former Republican Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush resigned under pressure.

The state’s IT track record means the pressure is on, Kelso said.

“Our big challenge is not to have a big failure. If you have a big failure, all the plans evaporate in an instant,” he said.

The governor’s budget, which requires legislative approval, proposes a maximum of $7.87 million and about 46 staff positions. Of those, about 25 would focus on reviewing projects and maintaining oversight, another 15 would develop policy and direction and about a half-dozen would server as administrators.

In the world of the bureaucracy, the review-oversight recommendation is significant: That function currently is handled by the Department of Finance, Schwarzenegger’s budget-writing arm. The new plan calls for the function to be handled independently of Finance–an important distinction, since question’s were raised during the Oracle scandal about the Department’s independence.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: