The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

September 27, 2013
Former government tech official weighs in on Ohio's IT lessons

Thumbnail image for email.jpg Reader Steve Steinbrecher emailed his response to our Thursday State Worker column, "Lessons from Ohio's state tech project." We're publishing it here, unedited, and with the author's permission:

Dear Jon:

I read your piece in this morning's Bee with a great deal of interest. I am a retired Chief Information Officer (CIO) who worked 35 years in public sector IT. I spent a number of years as CIO for San Joaquin County, as well as Contra Costa County, and also spent a good amount of time working on integrated projects with the state and its CIO's.

Short background: I had leadership responsibility for a couple of very large and expensive, but successful county IT projects (integrated Health Care and Criminal Justice Systems for San Joaquin, a couple of Enterprise Resource Planning systems for both counties (more commonly known as "Empty Rear Pocket" if you allow the consultants to drive your project) to replace aging Payroll and Human Resources applications, and of course, the infamous Y2K project. I cut my teeth on California's first attempt at a Statewide Welfare System (I think it was called SPAN) back in the late 1970's (failure), was very involved in the only successful Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS) in the 1980's, and the Statewide Automated Child Support System (SACSS - A colossal failure that County CIO's warned the state of impending failure three years before it even attempted to "go live"). I truly love reading all of these stories in the Bee and other publications, because as Led Zeppelin says, "The Song Remains the Same."

Mr. Conomy got almost everything correct in your interview. However, fear NEVER works as a motivator, in my humble opinion, because when the brown stuff hits the fan with respect to a public (or private) sector IT project, the CIO is fired, the politicians and high level project sponsors cover their butts, and the project either goes on, or another one come along to take its place (just look at California's IT track record, as you so aptly pointed out in your piece). Having said that, what he DID get right is:

NEVER give an IT project to outside contractors and consultants. The only skin they have in the game is receiving your monthly payments (and yes, post-retirement, I too worked as a strategic planning IT consultant for about 8 years...)

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 16, 2013
Retiree group's president wants pension privacy hearing

130816_computer.jpgCalifornia's largest state retiree group wants the Legislature to hold hearings into privacy and public information issues recently spotlighted by a plan - now on hold - for a searchable online database of annuitant retirement benefits.

Tim Behrens, president of the 33,000-member California State Retirees, requested the hearing in a letter to Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who chair committees concerned with public employee retirement issues.

CalPERS had planned to launch a searchable database of retiree pension information that for years has been considered public record, including names, pension allowances, last employer and year of retirement.

CalPERS said the information is public record and that it regularly releases the information to anyone who requests it. Posting the information on its website, fund officials said, would be more efficient than fielding and filling separate requests for the information as CalPERS does now.

And hosting the information on its website would allow the fund to control the data, officials said, while still fulfilling public records law requirements to release it. Some news organizations and political groups have taken CalPERS pension data and hosted it on their own websites.

Retiree groups blasted CalPERS idea, however, worried that making the information so easily accessible would heighten the likelihood that pensioners would be targeted by scammers who prey on the elderly. As the issue heated up and talk of the Legislature acting surfaced, CalPERS put the database launch on hold.

"Interim hearings will help the Legislature investigate," Behrens wrote in his Wednesday letter to lawmakers, "and perhaps develop a legislative solution that strikes the appropriate balance between the personal privacy of retirees and the importance of public access to CalPERS retiree data."

California State Retirees Privacy Letter


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 8, 2013
California IT snapshot: Tax agency going web-user friendly

Californians filed nearly 15.7 million personal income tax returns to the state Franchise Tax Board last year, translating into more $50 billion for the state's coffers.

Now the agency is working on a new IT system to streamline operations and make dealing with the agency more like handling an online bank account:

Name: Enterprise Data to Revenue Project
Department: Franchise Tax Board
Estimated total cost: $522 million
Amount spent to date: $153 million
Percent of project complete: 35 percent
Time frame: July 2008 - July 2017 (8 years)

What is it? A new system to file and electronically validate state tax documents. It will also allow filers to submit taxes online, make payments and view previous tax returns.

The official line: "This project is a major enterprise wide solution that will introduce a business process management system for the filing of tax returns in conjunction with expanded data capture of tax documents, enhanced validation of tax return information. The EDR will reduce the 'tax gap' and is anticipated to increase revenue up to $1 billion annually upon implementation."

Current red flags reported: None

This is the ninth in a series of daily posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as listed on the Department of Technology's website.

August 7, 2013
California IT snapshot: Los Angeles County's welfare project

For years, California has determined who qualifies for public assistance via three separate computer systems that each cover about one-third of the state's population base. State officials plan within the next four years to upgrade the one that handles Los Angeles County cases.

Another 39 mostly rural counties that provide benefits via the C4Yourself system will eventually migrate to the new Los Angeles Eligibility, Automated Determination, Evaluation and Reporting System, leaving the state with just two programs for managing government aid eligibility. (The other system, CalWIN, services 18 counties, most of them along populous coastal regions as well as Fresno, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties.)

Government officials have said that the old Los Angeles system is inadequate. A 2011 letter from federal welfare authorities said it "runs on unsupported hardware and is expensive to maintain." Changes in federal health care law add another layer of complexity.

A look at the new system in the works:

Name: Los Angeles Eligibility, Automated Determination, Evaluation and Reporting Replacement System
Department: Health and Human Services Agency
Estimated total cost: $476 million
Amount spent to date: $14 million
Percent of project complete: 8 percent
Time frame: July 2005 - July 2017 (11.3 years)

What is it? An updated IT system for Los Angeles County to manage public assistance services, including CalWORKs, the CalFresh food program and others.

The official line: "The CDSS proposes to replace the existing Los Angeles Eligibility, Automated Determination, Evaluation and Reporting automated welfare system with newer technology. The new system will determine eligibility and benefits for a variety of public assistance programs for Los Angeles County."

Current red flags reported: None.

This is the eighth in a series of daily posts highlighting California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as listed on the Department of Technology's website.

August 6, 2013
California IT snapshot: Medi-Cal payment-system overhaul

The Department of Health Care Services, through a contract with Xerox. services more than 8.5 million Medi-Cal recipients. Each day it processes roughly 830,000 health provider claims. Weekly payments run at about $325 million for everything from doctors' exams to prescription refills.

Ronald Reagan was in his first presidential term when the department's current IT system launched. A look at what's coming to replace it and when:

Name: California Medicaid Management Information System
Department: Department of Health Care Services
Estimated total cost: $459 million (majority of cost covered by federal funds)
Budgeted for 2013-14: $193 million ($140 million is funded through federal financial participation, and the remaining $53 million is state General Funds).
Amount spent to date: $108 million
Project complete: 12 percent
Estimated time frame: July 2009 - July 2018 (7.6 years)

What is it? Replaces a 30-year-old system that sends out payments for goods and services rendered under Medi-Cal, the state's version of the federal Medicaid program.

The official line: "This service contract processes payments to health care providers of the Medi-Cal fee-for-service program, including physicians, pharmacies, hospitals and other providers under a new Fiscal Intermediary and includes replacement of the legacy system."

Current red flags reported: None

This is the seventh in a series of daily posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as listed on the Department of Technology's website.

August 5, 2013
California IT snapshot: Case management for in-home care

Two departments in California's Health and Human Services Agency oversee programs that pay out $4 billion annually for in-home services to the elderly. The computer system they use for assigning those payments and tracking some 400,000 cases statewide is 25 years old.

Here's what the state is bringing in to replace it:

Name: Case Management, Information and Payrolling System II
Agency: Health and Human Services Agency
Estimated cost: $424 million
Amount spent to date: $222 million
Percent of project complete: 41 percent
Time frame: 1999-2000 to 2013-2014 (14 years)

What is it? A payroll- and case-tracking system for California's in-home care programs.

The official line:"The CDSS proposes to replace the existing legacy Case Management, Information and Payrolling System (CMIPS I) that handles case management and payrolling services for caregivers providing In-Home Supportive Services for qualified aged, blind, and disabled individuals. CMIPS II will employ newer technology, improve system stability and provide data integration with the California Medicaid Management Information System. The legacy CMIPS has been in production since 1973, utilizes outdated technology, and lacks adequate system documentation."

Current red flags reported: None

This is the sixth in a series of daily posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as listed on the Department of Technology's website.

August 2, 2013
California IT snapshot: The prison management system

California's far-flung prison and parole agency for decades has used dozens of separate computer and paper systems to do business, from tracking inmates to keeping records.

An overview of the new Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's computer system to streamline its operations:

Name: Strategic Offender Management System
Department: Corrections and Rehabilitation
Estimated total cost: $416 million
Amount spent to date: $243 million
Percent of project complete: 76.12 percent
Estimated time frame: 2007-2008 to 2012-2013 (5.7 years)

What is it? An electronic prison population management system that replaces multiple old electronic and paper database systems.

The official line:"The California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) proposes to replace or integrate almost all existing manual or automated offender management systems and extend system availability to 9,400 new users. The new consolidated system will provide one source for reliable and instant data to the CDCR staff who require it to manage the inmate population."

Current red flags reported: None

The Department expects incremental project schedule changes will be approved by the state in its latest report.

This is the fifth in a series of daily posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as listed on the Department of Technology's website.

August 1, 2013
California IT snapshot: Child welfare computer system makeover

Charged with safeguarding the well-being of children and adults, the California Department of Social Services uses its current case management system to track a plethora of data, from information used to make case-by-case child welfare decisions to collecting statistics for federal reports.

The current system, according to the department's website, is "comprised of more than 19,000 workstations, 2,000 laptops, 395 servers, 2,900 printers and other hardware." More than 19,000 state and county workers use the system at the department and at more than 429 sites around California.

But it's 16 years old and needs updating, officials say. Here is an overview of the proposed new system, which has an estimated price tag that ranks 7th on the state's list of IT projects:

Name: CWS New System
Agency: Health and Human Services Agency (Department of Social Services)
Estimated total Cost: $393 million
Estimated time frame: 2013-2014 to 2017-2018 (4.3 years)

What is it? A new data management system that will allow multiple agencies to submit information on child welfare case. It will also support mobile computing.

The official line:"The CDSS proposes to implement a fully automated and integrated web-based solution to replace CWS/CMS. The proposed CWS-NS solution provides an enterprise computing infrastructure using service oriented architecture and will optimize deployment of the counties' current and emerging business needs and will facilitate effective delivery of CWS services."

Report Status: No report cards available yet, since the project just started.

This is the fourth in a series of daily blog posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as ranked by the of Department of Technology.

July 31, 2013
California IT snapshot: The failed state payroll overhaul

After test runs failed miserably, state Controller John Chiang earlier this year suspended plans to shift the state's patchwork employee payroll system into a single, nimble program.

But the Human Resources Management System -- dubbed "MyCalPays" and, before that, the "21st Century Project" -- remains on the Department of Technology's tracking list, so we're including it as No. 8 on our list of California's 10 most-expensive IT projects:

Name: Human Resources Management System
Department: State Controller' s Office
Total estimated cost: $ 371 million
Amount spent: Roughly $250 million
Percent of project complete: NA
Estimated time frame: 2003-2004 to 2012-2013 (8.7 years)

What was it supposed to do? Replace the state payroll system that has been paying employees since the Vietnam War era.

The official line: "The State Controller's Office proposes to design, develop and implement an integrated HRMS/Payroll system, called MyCalPAYS in order to modernize the State of California payroll system that pays approximately 294,000 employees."

Red flags: Pilot program launch had numerous errors including under- and over-paying employees, taking incorrect deductions and making late payments.

This is the third installment in a series of daily posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects as listed on the Department of Technology's website.

July 30, 2013
California IT snapshot: Board of Equalization's system upgrade

As the state's business tax and fee collector, the Board of Equalization takes in more than $53.7 billion annually. The agency recently put out a call for bids on a massive computer system overhaul, which ranks No. 9 on our list of California's 10 largest state government IT projects.

The tale of the tape:

Name: Centralized Revenue Opportunity System
Department: State Board of Equalization
Total Estimated Cost: $269 million
Amount spent to date: $7 million
Percent of project complete: Not available. The project is 45 percent through its procurement phase.
Time frame: July 2010 - July 2020 (10 years)

What is it? CROS will centralize the functions of old systems to make business registrations, filing and tax collections more efficient. It will also improve fraud detection.

The official line: "BOE proposes, using a benefit based procurement approach, to replace and combine the functions of the Integrated Revenue Information System (IRIS) and Automated Collection Management System (ACMS), implement data warehouse/reporting capabilities and expand e-services to tax and fee payers. The proposed system will increase tax and fee revenues by improving data collection, access to data and sharing of data for improved business efficiencies."

Red flags: The project is having trouble filling vacancies, which is why it is running under budget. State workers are performing much of the work.

Editor's Note, 3:35 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, 2013: This post has been updated. The original story reflected numbers taken from the "Total Percent Complete" section of the California Department of Technology's Project Status Report as submitted by the State Board of Equalization. However, the report only reflected the total percentage complete for the procurement phase of the project, not for the entire project. The Department of Technology and the Board of Equalization are updating the project's status report to reflect the project's current total percent completed. The project's time frame was extended until fiscal year 2020 in the project's Request for Proposal on July 1.

This is the second in a series of daily posts looking at California's 10 most-expensive state computer projects according to the Department of Technology.

July 12, 2013
Blog Back: The CalPERS pension database

130711-blog-back.JPGBlog backs review your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.

News this week that CalPERS planned to launch a retiree pension database on its website -- and then delay it -- drew hundreds of comments on this blog and on Thursday's more expansive news story. A sampling:

July 8 CalPERS to disclose retiree pensions on website

Shame on CalPERS Board and its executive staff for deciding it wasn't important to first notify its retirees. Posting online retiree names, pension amounts and their last employer is not the problem. CalPERS has decided to give out more information than what is released about active state employees. You are creating a serious security issue for elderly retirees.

Since CalPERS wants to be transparent, it should include in that online database 1) the employee names, positions and the amounts of the bonuses of those who receive those bonuses; 2) the names, positions, and pension amounts of those who received $10,000 or more final comp due to a bonus and/or a large leave credit when they retired; and 3) the names, positions, and pay of those employees who retire and are rehired as retired annuitants and consultants. Taxpayers should know that senior managers are the lucky recipients in all three groups.

At least one retiree group knew about the database. Check out page 7 in the July edition of the California State Retirees' newsletter.

July 9, 2013
Poll: Weigh in on CalPERS' online pension database plan

Our cyber/fiber report on the CalPERS plan to launch a searchable database of retiree pension information that is considered public information has prompted plenty of response, particularly from pensioners who object to the idea.

We've received several calls and emails today from outraged CalPERS members who are certain that their privacy will be violated, that they will be more vulnerable to predators who target the elderly.

The courts have determined that the information CalPERS said it will put online is public record. The fund has answered requests for the information for several years. The difference now is that it will be more easily accessed via the Internet. For those who advocate for government transparency, the CalPERS database is a step forward. But for the people who have contacted us during the last two days, it's a step or two backward.

What do you think?

June 19, 2013
California Legislature approves money for state jobs website

130620-jobs-header.JPGDespite a slight procedural speed bump, lawmakers signed off on giving $821,000 to the Department of Human Resources to upgrade the state's jobs website.

Funding for the Examination and Certification Online System overhaul was included in Assembly Bill 110, the main budget bill, with the provision that the department make quarterly progress reports to the Legislature.

The department plans to absorb most of the $10 million project's cost by using in-house tech staff who will finish the work by mid-2017. Some lawmakers expressed skepticism at a May budget subcommittee hearing and voted against funding the program because it would come in at twice the cost and two years later than its original $4.7 million estimate with completion by August 2015.

The State Worker: Small project a big test for California's government tech skills

IMAGE: California Department of Human Resources/June 20, 2013

June 3, 2013
States get into the mobile app game

130603-apple-samsung--phones.JPGStates are rolling out mobile applications that do everything from touting tourism to assisting with tax payments.

Stateline's Melissa Maynard recently reported on the phenomenon and linked to a National Association of State Chief Information Officers site that catalogs 160 or so apps from around the nation.

The most common mobile programs connect users with their state's motor vehicles agency or provide state parks' information. Many help voters locate polling places or look up contact information for their elected officials.

Other apps are more tourism- and business-minded. "Delaware Fresh," gives users an interactive map that shows more than 80 farm stands and markets in the state.

And New York promotes its lottery with the "Yo-Yolanda" app. The Apple App Store description:

Spin your yo-yo like a New Yorker with Yo-Yolanda Vega! This yo-yo application from The New York Lottery shows you how to perform iconic tricks like The Brooklyn Bridge, Lady Liberty, The Niagara Fall and The Perfect Slice. The more tricks you master, the more points you get. NY Lottery announcer Yolanda Vega will be there to cheer you on. And after you're an ace with the yo-yo, you can check the NY Lottery winning numbers to see if you've really hit it big.

Please play responsibly. You must be 18 years or older to purchase a Lottery ticket.

PHOTO CREDIT: An Apple iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy. 2012 AP Photo / Ahn Young-joon

May 29, 2013
Tech experts and execs to talk California government telecom

CALPERS_COURTYARD_JAY_MATHER_2005.JPGOregon-based telecommunications company Integra is sponsoring a panel discussion on Thursday: "The Future of Telecom in the State of California."

The Public Sector Technology Exchange, which identifies itself "as an independent forum created to discuss the issues of government and information technology," is organizing the free-to-attend event in the CalPERS auditorium at 400 Q St. in Sacramento.

Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. The panel discussion 11 a.m. iYou can register via the conference website.

The eight-member panel will address several topics. The one that caught our eye: "Planning for growth in the era of doing more with less."

The panel roster:

May 23, 2013
Senate subcommittee rejects CalHR request for tech funding

20130311_HA_Loni_Hancock.JPGA California Senate budget subcommittee delivered a setback to a planned upgrade for the state's job website today by rejecting a proposal to fund it.

The California Department of Human Resources figures it will take about $10 million over four years to make the portal more user-friendly. It would absorb a little more than 80 percent of that cost, but Brown's 2013-14 budget proposal includes $821,000 in supplemental funding. (Click here for a recent State Worker column about the project.)

The three-member Budget Subcommittee No. 5 gave the funding a thumbs down this morning. Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, noted that an earlier estimate of the project figured it would cost half as much and that the state's high-tech history is pockmarked with failure.

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

May 9, 2013
Column Extra: CalHR should report on IT project, analyst says

130509-HEWLETT-PACKARD-SERVER.JPGOur column in today's fiber/cyber Bee looks at the California Department of Human Resources' retooling of the state's job application and testing processes after taking over the project from the State Personnel Board.

The piece references the Legislative Analyst's Office summary of findings on the Examination and Certification Online System, which is now estimated to cost roughly twice its original $4.7 million estimate with a 2017 launch date -- nearly two years late.

Print space limitations kept us from mentioning that LAO recommended the Legislature require CalHR make quarterly progress reports.

"Given the history of this project," the LAO's summary says, "... we recommend that the Legislature require (the Technology Agency) and CalHR jointly submit quarterly reports on the project's progress to the chairpersons of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and fiscal committees."

CalHR "pretty much agrees," said department spokeswoman Pat McConahay. "We're going to be very transparent about this."

IMAGE CREDIT: Computer server image, courtesy Hewlett Parkard / Sacramento Bee 2000 file

April 1, 2013
California's spending transparency ranks 49th among states

NEW_HUNDRED_DOLLAR_BILLS.JPGA group that lobbies for government openness has given California an "F" for spending transparency.

The California Public Interest Research Group and its national counterpart, USPIRG, hammer the Golden State in a report on states' use of web technology to open their books for public scrutiny.

The report issued last week assigns point totals and letter grades to all 50 states' transparency websites based on content and user friendliness.

The Golden State ranked 49th, with just 37 points out of a possible 100 points. North Dakota placed 50th, with 31 points.

February 21, 2013
Column Extra: CA Health Care Services IT chief to talk tech

130221 Flynn.JPGWith 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.

Today's column takes a look at government culture and a few ways that it clashes with information technology. The piece quotes John Thomas Flynn, who was California's first chief information officer in the Pete Wilson administration.

A registered Republican, Flynn ran last year for the Assembly District 8 seat. He finished fourth in a primary field of six candidates. Democrat Steve Cooley won the November general election.

Flynn follows state government tech like the Bee's Matt Barrows follows 49ers football. Flynn's blog, TechLeader.TV, regularly features IT types from various departments.

Today at 11:30 a.m, Flynn's scheduled guest is Chris Cruz, chief information officer for the California Department of Health Care Services. You can watch the webcast live by clicking here.

PHOTO: John Thomas Flynn / Sacramento Bee file, courtesy John Thomas Flynn

February 14, 2013
Column Extra: California's new IT task force, explained

20111102_ha_JOHN_CHIANG_0341.JPGWith 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 today takes a look at Controller John Chiang's decision to ax a $250 million payroll system upgrade program. We wondered what it says about the MyCalPays project and California's 30-year trail of information technology failures, a path paved with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

So we asked Chiang spokesman Jacob Roper what lessons have been learned from the payroll system saga, a project inherited from former Controller Steve Westly. Here's Roper's emailed response and more info about a new state IT task force commissioned by the controller and Gov. Jerry Brown:

May 8, 2012
Folsom firm rolls out California state worker mobile phone app

120508 CA State Phone App symbol.JPGA Folsom-based technology company has developed a new mobile device application that it predicts will become the go-to source for looking up California state employee phone numbers and email addresses.

Kiefer Consulting Inc. introduced the CA State Directory mobile app at the Government Mobility Conference earlier this year. The app uses public records in the state's database, but users can edit information and forward the corrected data to the state, which can then change its records.

The program also allows users to call and email, add information to contact lists and send vCards for address book updating.

When asked how state workers have received the product, company spokesman Chris Loeffler said that the response has been generally positive, although some government employees would prefer their direct lines weren't so accessible.

"However, they are state workers and their role is to support citizens," Loeffler said. He also thinks the app will expedite employee-to-employee contact as individuals and departments see the value of the service.

Kiefer Consulting developed the app in "about a week," Loeffler said. California gets the home-state discount -- no charge -- but the firm plans to sell similar programs for the other 49 states. It also has fielded inquiries from potential advertisers, Loeffler said.

The app is available for devices using Apple, Android and Windows operating systems.

IMAGE: Courtesy Kiefer Consulting Inc.

April 18, 2012
CalPERS pension deduction error resurfaces after 'fix'

Thumbnail image for 110503 Jelincic.JPGCalPERS new computer system is continuing to miscalculate some pension deductions, despite a modification that fund officials said had fixed the problem.

The issue came up Tuesday afternoon during a report to the fund's Pension and Health Benefits Committee by Donna Lum, Deputy Executive Officer for Customer Services and Support. Tuesday's Bee highlights some of the report, which you can read here.

CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco is checking on how many members are affected.

We've embedded a real-time transcript (which may not be an error-free verbatim record of the proceedings) at the end of this post and highlighted the exchange between Lum and board member J.J. Jelincic about the "unfixed" pension deduction problem:

March 14, 2012
California's chief information security officer to talk about state IT issues this morning

Goverment tech expert John Thomas Flynn has scheduled Keith Tresh , California's chief information security officer and the director of the Office of Information Security, for a live interview this morning on TechLeader.TV. The topics on tap include:

• Security, privacy and data protection policy for the state and how it's being implemented.
• Whether agencies and departments complying with those policies and other best practices.
• Recruiting and training the state's technology work force.
• The emergence of cyber-security as a national security concern.

Click here to watch the show live at 11:30 a.m. today.

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.

December 12, 2011
Dialing for CalPERS Day 3: How long is the wait?

111208 telephone_col-1.jpgThis is Day 3 of "Dialing for CalPERS," a regular (and highly unscientific) feature that reports how long the fund's Interactive Voice Response system tells us we have to wait to speak to a representative when we call in.

We also received an email from CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco that explains how the wait estimates that callers hear on the phone are longer than hold times they actually experience.

December 9, 2011
Dialing for CalPERS Day 2: How long is the wait?

Thumbnail image for 111208 telephone_col-1.jpgWelcome to Day 2 of "Dialing for CalPERS," a regular (and highly unscientific) feature that reports how long the fund's Interactive Voice Response system tells us we have to wait to speak to a representative when we call in.

We called CalPERS today at 10:13 a.m. and worked our way through the automated phone system to the death benefits unit to get a claim status. Estimated hold time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Curious to see if the hold time was the same if we were seeking other information, we called back and navigated to retiree health benefits, specifically long-term care. The phone system suggested we check a specific website, call a different number for information or speak to a CalPERS representative. Hold time for that: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

CalPERS has said it's working on getting the telephone hold times down and has statistics that indicate that actual telephone wait times on average have been about 30 minutes. Fund spokesman Brad Pacheco is working on getting new figures, which we'll share here. Click here for more background. Next week we'll start a chart to track the results from our daily spot checks.


December 8, 2011
Dialing for CalPERS: How long is the wait?

Thumbnail image for 111208 telephone_col-1.jpgWe're unveiling "Dialing for CalPERS," a regular (and highly unscientific) feature that will report how long the fund's call-routing Interactive Voice Response system tells us we have to wait to speak to a representative when we call in.

Today we navigated the system to the retiree death benefits at 10:30 a.m. The IVR voice on the other end of the line said we'd have to wait 1 hour and 33 minutes to speak to a representative.

CalPERS is continuing to experience "unusually long" wait times when members call in, the fund's recording says, a by-product of a transition to its 3-month-old, half-billion-dollar computer system. The State Worker has heard from dozens of disgruntled government employees and retirees with tales of phone waits of up to 2 hours or more when they're trying to get information or straighten out errors. (Click here for a recent report on the CalPERS computer system.)

Fund spokesman Brad Pacheco said in a Nov. 29 email that the fund has been fine-tuning the telephone system and offered these statistics:

During the 10 weeks since we launched my|CalPERS, 34 members out of the 98,000 calls answered waited more than 2 hours.

During the last 2 weeks, 3 members out of the over 17,000 calls answered waited more than 2 hours. Our average wait time for members over the past two weeks has been 27 minutes.

We'll post CalPERS' lastest numbers when they become available and we'll continue our own little spot checks. Don't be surprised if on-hold times are up, since December is a heavy month for the fund's call center because so many employees retire at the end of the year.


November 24, 2011
From the notebook: More about the CalPERS computer system

Thumbnail image for notebook-thumb-216x184-9328.jpgWe never get all of what we learn into a news story, but this blog can give users the data, the notes and the quotes from the notebook that informed what was published.

Our story today reports on CalPERS' problems with its new computer system, dubbed my/CalPERS, and its implementation, the Pension System Resumption Project. Since the system's startup in September, the fund has been slower to process death benefits claims for some members. The delayed payments have prompted some health insurance providers to take some members off their rolls for failing to pay their premiums -- which must be deducted from the death benefit payments).

CalPERS says it's giving the matter top priority and that no one is in danger of losing their medical coverage because of the computer problems.

Want to dig deeper? Here are some of the documents that informed the story:

The transcript of the CalPERS Board of Administration meeting on Oct. 19. The my/CalPERS discussion starts on page 48.

The transcript of the Nov. 16 CalPERS Board of Administration meeting. Scroll down to page 53 for my/CalPERS talk.

An Oct. 31 performance report on the transition from CalPERS' old patchwork computer system to the new one. We thought one of the metrics on page 2 was particularly interesting: "CalPERS reputation may be damaged if Judges and Legislators functionality is not properly implemented."


September 22, 2011
Column Extra: Report estimates telework's impact at $6.1 billion

110923 TRN chart.JPGWith 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 briefly refers to part of a report by the San Diego-based Telework Research Network that concludes the state could save millions of dollars each year by letting employees telework two days per week.

The report goes further, estimating that teleworking at both state and local government levels would have a total impact on budgets and social costs of $6.1 billion, as the chart at right shows. (Click it to enlarge.)

Some experts, such as Cal Poly Pomona professor Ralph Westfall, caution that telework impact estimates are often overstated by firms hoping to cash in on the trend. (Click here for links to some of what Westfall has written about the topic.)

September 21, 2011
Poll: Is telework a good fit for California state government?

Experts from the public and private sectors are meeting at Sac State on Thursday for a "Work Anywhere Symposium" to talk about government telework. (Click here for the event's agenda.)

Our State Worker column on Thursday will look at California's experience with the policy -- about 5 percent of state workers do some work away from the traditional worksite, according to the Department of General Services -- and the hurdles to expanding it.

So what do you think?

August 30, 2011
Blog Back Poll: The future of telework in California

Our Monday post on estimates that California state government could save $1.5 billion annually if it launched a serious telework program prompted a range of comments from blog users. Here's a sampling of remarks followed by a poll to take a broader sounding of what State Worker blog users think:

August 29, 2011
Study: Telework could save California billions of dollars

110829 computer user.JPGA new study concludes that California could save $1.5 billion annually if employees with jobs that could be done from home would telework two days per week.

Most of the savings would come from increased productivity, lower absenteeism and reduced turnover, says the Telework Research Network, that describes itself as a consulting firm "that specializes in modeling the economic, societal, and environmental benefits of telework and workplace flexibility." Teleworking also could save the state several million dollars in real estate expenses.

The Southern California-based company announced the telework savings estimates in advance of its participation in The Work Anywhere Symposium on Sept. 22 at California State University, Sacramento.

August 8, 2011
California DMV launches new website

We'll just say it: Despite chronic complaints and stereotypes of California's Department of Motor Vehicles, we think DMV is easily one of the most innovative and user-friendly agencies in California's state government.

The latest proof is DMV's new website, which department spokesman Mike Marando says reflects a continued push for services designed to "help customers do business on their time, not on our time."

July 7, 2011
Teleworking forum tonight

The American Society for Public Administration's Sacramento chapter will host an expert discussion tonight about how managers can use new technology to get the best results out of their teleworking employees.

The group says as the generation of digital natives joins the workforce, more employees will be working away from the office. But federal, state and local supervisors don't necessarily have an easy way to keep an eye on them. Dr. Milton Chen , chief executive officer of VSee Labs; Tony Souza, vice president of Secure Computing Environment and Michael Dziak, chief operating officer of, will be showing off best practices to change that.

The event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the USC State Capital Center at 1800 I St. in Sacramento. Attendees can RSVP to Paul Danczyk at or (916) 442-6911, or participate via online stream here or by phone at (800) 509-6344 and access code 0846955.

June 29, 2011
How Public Health responded to last year's data breach

We mentioned on Monday that the state Department of Public Health has reported it suffered its second sensitive data breach in a year. That led us to ask, what has the department done to tighten its data security since last year?

The latest case involved someone copying files with names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other information on about 9,000 current and former employees onto a separate hard drive that was taken off state premises.

The first case happened last September when a Southern California field office mailed an unencripted computer tape. The opened envelope arrived at Sacramento HQ, but the tape containing sensitive information about 2,550 facility residents and employees, didn't.

There's been no known misuse of the information in either case.

We asked Public Health spokesman Al Lundeen what the department did after the tape was lost in the mail. Here's his e-mailed reply:

June 27, 2011
Public Health Department says 9,000 employees' info stolen

Sensitive information on about 9,000 current and former state employees was copied and removed from state offices, the California Department of Public Health has announced.

The security breach, the second to hit the department in a year, involves most current employees at the state Public Health and Health Care Services departments, and nearly 3,000 employees of the former Department of Health Services. The copied information included individual names and addresses, Social Security numbers, ethnicity, birth dates, compensation records, employees' next of kin and their addresses.

In a statement, CDPH Director Dr. Ron Chapman said, "We regret that the personal information of our employees was compromised. We take the breach of any secure documents very seriously and are committed to taking steps to minimize any impact of this action and further strengthen our security policy."

The department says that there's no evidence that the information has been misused, but it's still offering free credit monitoring to anyone caught up in the security lapse.

Someone tripped the department's security detection system on April 5 by copying the information to a private hard drive. CDPH investigators subsequently discovered that the hard drive was removed from state premises by an employee, according to the department press release. The employee, who was not named, is on administrative leave while the investigation continues.

Last Friday's announcement was the second time that Public Health officials have had to announce a personal information security breach. Last September a computer backup tape mailed from a Southern California field office never made it to department headquarters in Sacramento. The tape contained medical records and personal information of about 2,550 facility residents, staff and health care workers.

April 5, 2011
EDD says new web software blocks blog access

We've been hearing from folks in various units of the Employment Development Department that their access to The State Worker has been cut off.

Given some of the challenges that The Bee confronted with access from state computers, we figured that these complaints were part of a problem on our side of the Web.

But The Bee's corporate tech staff at McClatchy Interactive fixed the problem and confirmed it a few weeks ago. So we contacted Patti Roberts at EDD. Here's what she e-mailed last week:

March 7, 2011
Tech blogger suggests $5 billion in state IT cuts

With last Friday's deadline pushed back for Gov. Jerry Brown to announce two lists of suggested government spending cuts, TechLeader TV blogger and broadcaster John Thomas Flynn has his own list of information technology cuts. Together, he says, they amount to about $5 billion in savings:

  • Eliminate $1.8 billion Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal) Project
  • Terminate California Court Case Management System (CCMS) immediately - Savings: $1.5 billion
  • Intensify fraud and waste investigations of Medi-cal and other state benefit and revenue programs - Savings: $1.5 billion
  • Re-examine IT scope, schedules, and procurement strategy, even canceling several non-performing projects could easily shave 10-20%. Savings: $500 million+.

Click here for Flynn's analysis on the TechLeader.TV blog.

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.


February 2, 2011
Forum on government IT costs set for Feb. 17

110202 keyboard.JPGCalifornia spends $8 billion per year on information technology and yet, as Bee columnist Dan Morain pointed out in a recent column, the government is having trouble issuing drivers licenses. It's ironic that the birthplace of Apple, Cisco and Google often struggles when it comes to delivering its state government IT projects on budget and on time.

That disconnect is why three organizations are sponsoring a forum next week, "Optimizing IT Procurements in Times of Fiscal Austerity," at the USC Capital Center at 18th and I streets in Sacramento on Thursday, Feb. 17, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The University of Southern California State Capital Center, Sacramento State's Center for Collaborative Policy and the American Society for Public Administration are backing the event, which will feature a panel discussion with several IT experts from the public and private sectors.

Can't attend in person? You still can follow the discussion online or on the telephone. Click here for a press release with more details about remote access and the forum panelists.


December 2, 2010
Bee working to fix Disqus comment system kinks

The Bee launched a new comment system on Wednesday -- and it has a few bugs to work out for Internet Explorer 8 users.

The most common complaint that we've fielded is that logged-in users can't figure out where to write their comments. The former system's comment field was located at end of a story or blog item and before the posted comments. With the new system, Disqus, the comment field is at the bottom of the posted comments under "Add New Comment."

But if you're using IE 8 -- which we understand is the default browser for many or most state PCs -- you'll see "Add New Comment" but no text box for your comments. That's one of the glitches our IT staff is working to fix.

Firefox users don't have this problem, so if you can switch to that browser to surf, we highly recommend it.

We've received several dozen e-mails and a handful of phone calls about the new system's shortfalls. A few people have asked if the change to Disqus and the commensurate problems arising from the switch are a backdoor effort by The Bee or The State Worker to tamp down comments that are sometimes critical of our coverage.

Quite the opposite. Disqus has features (when working properly) that allow users to follow comment threads via e-mail, log in with their Facebook or Twitter accounts and edit their own posts online. The move to the new system was made to enhance and expand comment opportunities and exposure, not restrict them.

So hang with us. When our techs smooth out the kinks in the system, we'll let you know.

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


Now on the State Worker column

State Pay Database

This database allows you to search the salaries of California's 300,000-plus state workers and view up to four years of their pay history.


October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    

Monthly Archives