Bugs in the System: California's Monumental IT Failures Earn Latest California Golden Fleece® Award: News Releases: The Independent Institute

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News Release
September 17, 2020

Bugs in the System: California’s Monumental IT Failures Earn Latest California Golden Fleece® Award

(Oakland, CA)— The greatest minds in technology are not far from the state Capitol—yet taxpayers and lawmakers alike continue to be baffled by the inability to modernize California’s IT systems, much less do so on time and under budget.

For the continual failings by the agencies responsible for overseeing and administering California’s various failed IT projects, the Independent Institute awards its tenth California Golden Fleece® Award—a dishonor given quarterly to California state or local agencies or government projects that swindle taxpayers or break the public trust. These agencies include the California Department of Technology, Department of General Services, Department of Finance, State Controller’s Office, State Treasurer’s Office, Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Department of Consumer Affairs.

“From processing unemployment claims to operating payroll, financial, and various Department of Motor Vehicles functions, the state of California has a dismal record of public service, due, in large part, to its outdated and disparate IT systems,” said Adam Summers, Independent Institute Research Fellow and author of the report titled Bugs in the System: California State IT Project Failures.“Californians deserve access to basic state government services that are just as user-friendly as online shopping.”

The report outlines a litany of projects—some dating back decades—that have failed completely, delivered significantly less functionality than intended, or been completed only after years of delays and spending many millions of dollars more than advertised. The report suggests 20 recommendations and best practices intended to address deficiencies in IT project planning, oversight, and implementation. These include using performance-based contracting, minimizing costly and time-consuming change orders, streamlining bureaucracy, outsourcing more oversight functions, and increasing accountability.

“A monopolistic government bureaucracy that faces no competition, and whose budgets are not tied to its performance, simply does not have the same incentives as a private-sector company that must constantly innovate and keep its prices low and its service levels high in order to survive, keep patrons and obtain new customers,” says Summers.

The state must also invest in data security to prevent cyberattacks and protect Californians’ privacy. California allows the Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, to sell driver’s personal information, to the tune of more than $50 million a year. Keeping Californians’ personal data secure should be a top priority of all state agencies, the report asserts.

Read the entire report here.

For media inquiries, please contact Robert Ade, [email protected].

100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621-1428

The Independent Institute is a non-profit research and educational organization that promotes the power of independent thinking to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity. For more information, visit Independent.org.


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