The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

January 10, 2011
State computer finance project faces hurdles, audit update says

110107 FISCAL.JPGTalk about irony.

Work on a massive state computer hardware and software system to improve its financial reporting continues, but no one seems to know for sure how much the project will eventually cost or how to pay for it, according to a new state report.

The uncertain future of the Financial Information System for California project, or FI$Cal, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's hiring restrictions translated into high turnover among the project's key staff and hurt efforts to hire qualified replacements.

That further hampered work on the project, which aims to integrate the state government's vast and varied accounting, human resources and procurement systems into one. Currently, the state's financial data networks are a patchwork of dissimilar systems built piecemeal over many years.

State Auditor Elaine Howle's five-page update on the project notes:

  • FI$Cal doesn't have a certain funding source because the plan to pay for it with bonds may be illegal. Officials hope to get some federal funding.
  • In 2009-10, the state spent $12.2 million on FI$Cal. Officials estimate they'll spend another $42.6 million on it during the current fiscal year.
  • The project's long-term cost isn't clear. Three years ago the estimate was $1.6 billion over 12 years. No one knows (or is willing to give) an estimate now. Officials expect to have a new number in an August report.
  • Nearly one-third of the project's staff leave each year. As of December, 75 of 165 budgeted full-time positions -- nearly half -- were vacant.
  • FI$Cal's deputy director, project director and project executive have all left. "The loss of the project director will create a challenge for the project to hire an individual that has the combination of technical and business experience to deal with a project of this size, complexity, and scope," Howle wrote.
  • Officials are now considering a scaled-down version of the system.

In this January 2008 newsletter, project officials estimated FI$Cal would be in the testing stage by now. But the auditor's report (on page 3, below) shows that the contract won't be awarded until September of this year.

FI$Cal Audit
IMAGE: www.fiscal.ca.gov

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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