The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

September 26, 2013
Column Extra: How pigs flew in Ohio

Our State Worker column in today's Bee looks at a high-profile Ohio state government technology project that -- gasp! -- launched on time and essentially within budget.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Public Safety looked high and low for documented models of successful government technology projects and found virtually nothing to inspire them when they started the project in 2007. When they finished their work in 2012, they wrote a brief look back at the experience.

The flying pig reference in the paper's title comes from the comment by a discouraged project team member who "believed the task to be so overwhelming and impossible that 'pigs would fly' before this project was completed," the report said.

Later, as the group notched incremental wins and gained competency and confidence, the flying pig became a mascot and a symbol of pride.

Exodus Case Study - Ohio Department of Public Safety August 2012

With just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, much of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes, the documents and the observations that inform what's published.

August 15, 2013
State officials blame payroll debacle on contractor, other agency

130815-state-paychecks.jpgOfficials with the California State Controller's Office spent the better part of a three-hour hearing this afternoon explaining how their now-defunct project to overhaul the state payroll system fell victim to contracted vendors' shoddy work, poor evaluation guidelines and, in one instance, another department's insistence that the company's credentials couldn't be more deeply scrutinized.

The Senate budget subcommittee hearing, chaired by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, also underscored how term limits and employee turnover in the talent-starved information technology industry give officials a measure of cover when long-term, multimillion-dollar computer projects crash.

August 15, 2013
Hearing scheduled for failed California state payroll tech project

130815-john-chiang.jpgA Senate budget and fiscal review subcommittee will hear testimony about the failed 21st Century/MyCalPays project today after the upper chamber adjourns its floor session.

The hearing follows a scathing assessment by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes that State Controller John Chiang's office issued positive reports about the payroll overhaul effort while officials behind the scenes warned that the IT project was failing.

Chiang's office has disputed the report's conclusions and blames the demise of 10-year, quarter-billion-dollar, two-time bust on the project's contractor, global tech firm SAP.

Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, chairs the subcommittee. Click here for an agenda with attachments and a list of speakers. Chiang is not on the list.

The California Channel has tentatively scheduled its live broadcast of the hearing for 1 p.m. Click here to watch via the Internet.

Related links:
California payroll overhaul vexed by complexity, poor oversight
California Controller John Chiang's response to critical report

PHOTO: John Chiang, California state controller, meets with The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Bureau in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday, July 14, 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 12, 2013
California Controller John Chiang's response to critical report

In a battle of dueling reports, State Controller John Chiang's office has released what it's calling "a preliminary internal review" of the twice-failed payroll overhaul program that shut down in February after 10 years and a quarter-million dollars spent.

The controller's assessment counters a damning review by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes that says the state couldn't manage the project, lacked the wherewithal to change an ossified bureaucratic culture and fed glowing reports to the Legislature even as the program was in crisis.

The report from Chiang's office blames the structure of the contract with the vendor, inadequate state procurement law at the time and a host of testing and communication failures by that vendor, SAP.

"The SCO believes SAP failed because it was not committed to the same objectives as the State," the report says.

Chiang spokesman Jacob Roper sent an email with the report, citing dozens of occasions in the last few years that department staff met with lawmakers and state oversight agencies about the project.

The Senate report's characterization that staff hid the project's struggles "appears to be driven by the report's over-reliance on the SCO quarterly reports," Roper said in the email, "without taking into account other forms of information sharing that were constantly and regularly taking place between the Legislature and the SCO."

Chiang has said he supports an independent review of the project.

August 12, 2013
California payroll overhaul vexed by complexity, poor oversight

20111102_ha_JoHN_CHIANG0365-AMEZCUA.JPGController John Chiang's office spun an upbeat message about efforts to overhaul the state's aging payroll system for years, while behind the scenes the massive IT project was in disarray, according to a new state analysis released this morning.

The report by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes this morning concludes that officials running the now-defunct 21st Century/MyCalPays project kept pouring money into the program despite clear and early warnings from insiders that the program was foundering on many levels:

"These basic, core problems included the state's payroll complexity, data conversion, staff vacancies, organizational change management (the process of teaching and selling the new system to existing staff), the absence of a quality assurance team, and an inability to stay on schedule ..."

The report is the first official public post-mortem on the 10-year, quarter-billion-dollar twice-failed effort to modernize the state's payroll system. Chiang inherited the project from his predecessor, former State Controller Steve Westly.

Senate investigators examined the program from the state management side and concluded that cultural resistance to change also hampered the project. For example, some departments -- "CalFire, the State Water Resources Control Board, Caltrans and, surprisingly, the California Technology Agency" - fell behind schedule for adopting the payroll management system, the report notes.

Meanwhile official updates to the Legislature "often lacked candor, sugar-coating some problems and ignoring others. This failure to be transparent compromised legislative oversight and stymied accountability."

A message left with Chiang's office was not immediately returned this morning.

The oversight report's release comes ahead of a Thursday hearing that Sen. Richard Roth's Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee will be conducting on the 21st Century Project.

July 29, 2013
California IT snapshot: DMV's failed registration overhaul

This is the first in a series that reviews California's 10 most-expensive state government information technology projects, according to the Department of Technology. First up, an infamous trip-up at a department that touches nearly every adult in California.

Name: Information Technology Modernization
Department: Department of Motor Vehicles
Vendor/contractor: HP Enterprise Services (a division of Hewlett-Packard)
Total cost: $208.1 million
Amount spent to date: $135 million
Percent of project complete: Cancelled in January 2013
Estimated timeframe: July 2006 - July 2013 (6.9 years)

What was it? An overhaul of DMV's systems for registering vehicles, and for licensing drivers, driving schools and other driving-related businesses. DMV officials say the licensing part of the job was completed and that they intend to pursue the work related to vehicle registration.

The official line: "This project will incrementally upgrade the Department's core systems and processes over a seven year timeframe by modernizing all components of the existing Driver License, Vehicle Registration, and Occupational Licensing legacy systems applications and programs, transactions processing and database architecture using more current and easier to support technologies."
Red flags: Faulty programming, staffing problems, according to the project's final December 2012 status report.

Source: California Department of Technology

Editor's Note: This post and its headline have been updated to reflect that the licensing work was completed, but that the DMV will pursue the registration work. Updated 9:35 a.m. on July 30, 2013.

May 20, 2013
Audit: California must look inward to assess failed payroll system

20111102_ha_JoHN_CHIANG0365-AMEZCUA.JPGA new report from the Legislative Analyst's Office says the state needs to assess its role in the MyCalPays debacle.

That conclusion is part of the LAO's take on the $14.6 million Gov. Jerry Brown's budget gives the State Controller's Office to clean up the failed payroll overhaul.

The budget doesn't include funding for an audit of why the project failed. The analyst suggests that an outside firm should assess the state's role in the project's demise.

Controller John Chiang's spokesman, Jacob Roper, said that the money for an internal forensic analysis wasn't included in Brown's budget.

The timing for such an audit "is still being developed right now," Roper said.

PHOTO CREDIT: State Controller John Chiang. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee 2011 file

May 14, 2013
Failed state payroll clean up price tag: $14.5 million

RB_State_Checks_Machine.JPGThe program may be dead, but the spending isn't over for the state's defunct payroll system overhaul.

Gov. Jerry Brown's budget includes a $14.5 million allocation for legal costs and computer data clean up associated with the MyCalPays system that Controller John Chiang killed earlier this year.

Brown's January budget proposal called for $38 million and 150 positions to finish implementing the program, but Chiang canceled the contract with tech giant SAP after a series of error-filled test runs raised concerns that the project could never expand statewide.

Chiang spokesman Jacob Roper didn't have a detailed breakdown of how the controller will spend the reduced allocation.

The governor's budget revision says part of the money will pay for 40 temporary positions to move employee payroll accounts that were part of the failed test runs back to the old computer system, fix errors and make employees whole.

Some of the money will pay for legal costs. Chiang has said he will sue SAP, which has said it fulfilled the contract's terms.

In total, the controller's office has spent $262 million over nine years on the project. Lawmakers first approved funding for a state payroll overhaul in 1998.

PHOTO CREDIT: State paychecks roll off a printer at the State Controller's Office on C Street in Sacramento. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee 2003 file

March 6, 2013
Report: State payroll system upgrade may not be feasible

RB_State_Checks_Machine.JPGAfter nine years and $262 million spent on a twice-failed project to upgrade California's employee pay system, the Legislative Analyst's Office says an overhaul of the current system may not be possible.

A report released today lays out the ugly details of the 21st Century / MyCalPays project: The 2004 launch with an optimistic $130 million price tag, the escalating cost estimates that reached $373 million; the contractors hired and fired when the job wasn't done.

Last month State Controller John Chiang terminated a contract with global tech firm SAP after a test run of 1,300 paychecks was riddled with errors. For now, the state continues to process payroll with the 30-year-old system it had hoped to discard.

"Due to recent events, it is unclear to our office that integrating the state's payroll systems, in their current structure, is feasible," the analyst's office wrote.

February 25, 2013
California state workers: The root of all evil?

Thumbnail image for 110906 email.JPGOur state worker columns about government IT prompted more than the usual number of angry emails and phone calls the last couple weeks. The first column zeroed in on Controller John Chiang's decision to ax the MyCalPays payroll system. The second considered a broader question: Why is tech such a huge problem for the state?

Here are the most common criticisms and our responses:

October 23, 2012
CalPERS receives awards for computer system

Editors note, 4:22 p.m.: This post has been updated with more data and call processing information from CalPERS.

121022 anne_stausboll courtesy calpers.JPGCalPERS announced today that it has received recognitions of excellence for two of its programs, including the my|CalPERS computer system that has a history of glitches and costly overruns.

"Our teams truly embody the CalPERS core value of quality in striving to exceed our customers' needs and expectations through competence, innovation and teamwork," CalPERS' CEO Anne Stausboll said today in a press release. "These honors are well deserved."

April 26, 2012
California shaves computer system cost estimate by $1 billion

Officials overseeing California's troubled financial computer system project say it will cost nearly $1 billion less than earlier estimated, according to a new Bureau of State Audits report.

The latest projections by the the Financial Information System for California, or FI$CAL, figure that the massive hardware and software makeover will cost $616.8 million, down from a 2007 estimate of $1.6 billion over 12 years.

March 12, 2012
California state government's website gets high marks for transparency

California's website has received an "A-" grade from Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit that promotes government transparency.

The state's Internet portal was one of 214 government websites to receive an "A-" or better, the standard for receiving a 2012 Sunny Awards.

The judges graded 6,000 government sites against a checklist for information such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes. The panel considered websites for states, cities, counties and school districts.

California's was one of 10 state government websites to receive recognition. The others: Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington and West Virginia.

A total of nine state and local government websites from California made the Sunny list. Florida government sites garnered the most awards with 28, followed by Texas (21), Illinois (19), Virginia (14), Ohio and Pennsylvania (10 each).

Click here for the Sunshine Reviews' take on California's state website. This link opens an announcement that includes a sortable list of all 214 award-winning websites.

March 8, 2012
Column Extra: A little more about the CalPERS computer error

Thumbnail image for 100602 yolo county gavel.jpgWith just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, some of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you the notes, the quotes and the observations that inform what's published.

Our State Worker column in today's Bee looks at how CalPERS is continuing to deal with nagging problems concerning its $500 million-plus computer system. This time the trouble touched about 4,200 retirees whose health insurance premiums were incorrectly withheld. Twice.

Here are some snippets of email correspondence this week between The State Worker and CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco that we've arranged in a Q&A format, and the text of a letter sent to affected members on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 that explained the withholding mistakes and the fixes.

January 12, 2012
Poll: What ails California's state high-tech projects?

As noted in today's State Worker column, the FI$Cal project is struggling to find funding and skilled employees to execute the plan to merge departments' array of dissimilar IT finance and operations systems into one.

It seems like any time the state takes on an ambitious project that it runs into trouble: cost overruns, staff who jump ship, vendor problems, service contract cost overruns and the like. Take our poll to register what you think:

January 12, 2012
Column Extra: Read Auditor Elaine Howle's FI$Cal report

With just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, most of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes and the observations that inform what's published.

Our column in today's Bee outlines State Auditor Elaine Howle's update on the Financial Information System for California, the biggest information technology project in state government.

Click here to read Howle's latest FI$Cal report, which has more details about the project than we could cram into our column.

February 15, 2011
See what the state departments paid for wireless services

The Bee reported last week that about 25 percent of the 54,000 or so state wireless lines audited so far were unused in December at a cost to government of more than $300,000.

The state Office of Technology has been looking at the issue for more than a year, long before Gov. Jerry Brown said he wanted departments to cut their phone inventories by 50 percent. The results, according to Validas, a Texas-based a mobility service advising firm, was $2.6 million saved from using wireless devices more efficiently and negotiating lower-priced rates.

Here's the Validas report:
State of California Wireless Savings Report: January 27, 2011

February 5, 2011
From the notebook: More about DMV's request for free service

notebook-thumb-216x184-9328.jpgWe can never get everything we learn into a news story. "From the notebook" posts give you some of the extra details behind the news.

Our story in The Bee today dissects a recent DMV "request for quotation" from companies interested in performing -- for free -- a system security check for the department.

Here's more about some of the people and companies mentioned in the story, plus documents that informed our reporting:

DMV's Request For Quotation #EXE10-0024, which sought to "to acquire a Contractor to perform a no-fee security risk assessment of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) current security operations processes."

Here are the questions raised by potential bidders about the RFQ for a freebie and the state's answers (click on it for a larger image):

RFQ QA.jpg

Clicking here opens the homepage for A Martin Inc./WebEnforce, the San Ramone firm that literally couldn't give its service away to DMV.

Here's DMV's rejection letter to WebEnforce.

Clicking here opens IT expert Michael Krigsman's IT blog on ZDNet. This link opens the homepage of Krigsman's IT consulting firm in Brookline, Mass., Asuret.

And here are two earlier State Worker posts about Krigsman's assessment of success claims by the Office of the Chief Information Officer (now the dubbed the California Technology Agency) and his subsequent reassessment.


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:

October 21, 2010
State signs deal to consolidate e-mail systems

101022 mail image.jpgState IT watcher John Thomas Flynn reports on his TechLeader.TV blog that the state has signed a deal to consolidate its e-mail systems. Computer Sciences Corporation, based in Falls Church, Va., won the contract. Click here for more info.

Hat tip to blog user R for flagging this report for The State Worker.

June 30, 2010
Systems Integration director set for Thursday interview

Benedetto.jpgPaul Benedetto, director of the Office of Systems Integration at the California Health and Human Services Agency is scheduled to be interviewed Thursday at 11:30 a.m. on TechLeader.TV. The show, hosted by John Thomas Flynn, will touch on several aspects of the state's tech efforts, including the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Project.

Click this link for more info about the show or to watch Thursday's interview, which will be archived on the TechLeader.TV site.

PHOTO: Paul Benedetto /

June 29, 2010
Public Health launches app to locate hospitals, care facilities

100629 iPhone.JPGThe California Department of Public Health has a new mobile application to locate hospitals and long-term care facilities around the state.

The app provides info for more than 500 hospitals and 2,500 long-term care facilities. Click here for more details.

IMAGE: Department of Public Health

June 22, 2010
Fish & Game announces new mobile Web app

The California Department of Fish and Game 100622 Fish and Game logo.JPGhas released a Fishing Guide web application with tons of fishing info, including fishing locations, latest fish planting sites and where to buy a fishing license. The app works on iPhone, Android and Blackberry smart phones. Check it out at

Click here to read more about the DFG app.

May 25, 2010
EDD tech chief leaving for CalPERS post

Dale Jablonsky, the Employment Development Department tech chief who said he'd quit if he failed to fix the department's technical troubles, is leaving for an executive officer job at CalPERS. He'll take his new post, replacing fund CIO Teri Bennett, on Aug. 2.

You may recall that Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, put Jablonsky on the spot during an Insurance Committee hearing in February examining $80 million in tech project cost overruns at the department. According to this Feb. 9 Bee report, this was how the hearing went for Jablonsky:

EDD technology boss Dale Jablonsky told legislators his department's systems currently run ancient COBOL programming language and they've been behind many of the delays in processing claims and getting checks out.

Modernization projects have also been stalled or delayed because scarce staff needed to be reassigned to prepare the state's systems for the string of federal benefit extensions, Jablonsky said. That includes projects funded with stimulus money.

But Calderon said that if EDD had met its own initial deadlines to modernize its systems, instead of missing them repeatedly, it could have been ready for the current unemployment crisis.

The assemblyman asked Jablonsky if he'll resign if he misses his next deadlines.

"Yes," Jablonsky said.

Several blog users sent The State Worker an e-mail that went out last week to EDD staff about Jablonsky's upcoming departure for CalPERS. We confirmed its authenticity with department spokeswoman Loree Levy before posting it, unedited, here:

March 9, 2010
Poll: Telework and remote computer access

As we reported last week, the state has set telework and remote computer access standards. We wonder how many people do some work from home and whether that number will grow with the state's new policy in place. Which leads to our poll question:

And as always, we're interested in your comments.

Editor's note: This poll was posted on Monday and then posted again with today's date to hold it on The State Worker home page.

March 4, 2010
State issues telework policy

The Office of the State Chief Information Officer on has released new policies for state employee telework and remote computer access.

The need to implement telework and remote access solutions is becoming increasingly important. In addition to the traditional benefits of reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, and increased employee productivity and job satisfaction; today's business drivers include disaster and pandemic preparedness planning. However, the cybersecurity risks and incidents associated with unmanaged use of remote access and telework arrangements can be costly and impact the ability to deliver essential public services.

Click here to read the rest of the OCIO press release. This link opens the jargon-laced Information Policy Letter 10-03, which lays out the policy.

February 26, 2010
State to issue social media guidelines for agencies, departments

State Chief Information Officer Teri Takai will announce a new social media policy today that requires agencies and departments perform due diligence and consider a number of factors when using twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and several state departments already use those kinds of tools to reach the public. The governor had 1,656,153 people following his tweets as of 4 p.m. on Thursday. About two dozen state agencies, departments and programs have Facebook accounts.

The Department of General Services has this myspace page. DMV uses YouTube to deliver education videos like the one at the top of this post.

Takai is supposed to officially release the state's social media policy today around noon.

Click here to read the new social media standard. This link opens Takai's IT Policy Letter to agencies and departments.

February 16, 2010
State Info Security director scheduled for TechLeader.TV

050216 Mark Weatherford.jpg

TechLeader.TV will feature a live interview with Mark Weatherford, director of the California Office of Information Security, on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. The show will be archived on the Web site if you want to check it out later. Click here for more info about the Webcast.


February 10, 2010
Schwarzenegger order aims to improve state's IT services

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday signed Executive Order S-03-10, which establishes a new chief information officer position for all state agencies and departments.

The governor issued the order the same day that Bee reporter Andrew McIntosh reported that EDD is spending tens of millions of dollars on IT projects but still is falling behind on assisting the unemployed.

The order also gives the state chief information officer ...

... authority as provided by law over all information technology (IT) infrastructure and shared services, including, but not limited to, the following: data and telecommunications networks; data center services, including all equipment necessary to operate mission-critical and public-facing applications (e.g., servers, storage, switches, security devices, and mainframes); hosting of mission-critical and public-facing applications; and shared enterprise services (e.g., e-mail and directory).

Click here to read the order and the administration's press release about it.

January 27, 2010
State's top tech exec scheduled for Thursday Web show

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 090211 Teri_Takai.jpgCalifornia's Chief Information Officer Teri Takai is scheduled for a Web-based live interview on TechLeader.TV on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. The show, hosted by John Thomas Flynn, is devoted to California's state government technology issues.

Click here to open TechLeader.TV's Web site, which includes links to archived interviews with state officials dating back to 2008.

IMAGE: Teri Takai /

December 1, 2009
State departments among 'Best of California' winners

The Center for Digital Governmenthas recognized several state departments with its "2009 Best of California Awards" for achievements in leadership and information technology.

A panel of state and local government chief information officers chose the winners from applications submitted over the summer. The center started giving the awards in 2002.

A recognition ceremony is scheduled for 3:20 p.m. on Thursday at the Sacramento Convention Center. It's part of a day-long, public sector-only event focused on how state, regional and local governments are using technology. Click here for more details.

And click the following link for a list of the award winners.

September 3, 2009
Senate passes state worker electronic pay stub bill

A bill that would let state employees with direct payroll deposit receive electronic earnings statements has passed the Senate on a unanimous vote and is now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

The measure by Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, would save the state up to $3.7 million each year in printing costs. The caveat: "This bill will be contingent upon the funding of the State Controller's 21st century project, which will have the capabilities to carry out this function," according to a Strickland press release.

Click here to read more about the measure. Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for payroll.gif

This link will take you to the press release.


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


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