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State Technology Oversight Board Is Urged

Government: Consultant says panel would develop procurement guidelines, ethical criteria to avoid another Oracle debacle.

July 04, 2002|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — As Gov. Gray Davis continues to try to extricate the state from an embarrassing $95-million computer software contract with Oracle Corp., his handpicked consultant on Wednesday called for creation of a new board that would oversee high-tech procurement and try to avert similar debacles in the future.

The recommendations follow a highly critical audit that found insufficient need for the statewide computer software licensing deal that the administration struck with Oracle and its partner, Northrop Grumman subsidiary Logicon.

Prepared by professor J. Clark Kelso of McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, the report recommends creation of a government technology oversight board, headed by a chief technology officer and aided by an office of government technology. Together, they would develop regulations, plans and guidelines for information technology projects, as well as ethical standards for procurement.

The new bureaucracy would replace the Department of Information Technology, which was created in 1995 after the state spent $50 million on a Department of Motor Vehicles computer system that never worked and had to be scrapped. The department, which replaced the Office of Information Technology, ceased to exist on Sunday, as lawmakers refused to fund it.

Another Davis-appointed group is looking at procurement policy. The reports will become part of the mix as Davis and lawmakers deal with the issue in coming months.

Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), who has taken a leading role on technology issues, called Kelso's suggestions a "reasonable approach," though she added that any revision will require a detailed look that will spill into next year.

Following the DMV computer failure, then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed a panel to recommend changes in state computer procurement. It responded by calling for a "computer czar" who would report directly to the governor.

At the time, officials had high hopes for their system of checks and balances, and for the expertise. "Will this office prevent future crises?" asked Lee Grissom, then director of the Office of Planning and Research. "I believe it will go a long way toward achieving that."

On Wednesday, Kelso said a single computer czar is impractical given the size of state government. By creating a board, he said, the state could open the procurement process to the public. Kelso emphasized that the "sunshine" of public hearings would help avert debacles and ethical lapses.

"The real goal has to be avoid mistakes in the first place," Kelso said. "And some of that can be accomplished by opening up our information technology planning process and procurement."

Davis tapped Kelso in May after the governor suspended--and later forced to resign--Department of Information Technology Director Elias Cortez, a booster of the Oracle deal. Kelso gained a reputation as a trouble-shooter by serving as the Department of Insurance's interim director when Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush was forced to resign two years ago.

Kelso acknowledged that his recommendations are "open to further debate, analysis and discussion." In a news conference, he said he hadn't formed opinions about the size of the board.

His report envisions that the Government Technology Oversight Board would create a statewide "strategic plan and vision" for information technology development. The report says the board would require a "needs assessment and fiscal analysis" before the state buys a new system, and that there would be "full and fair competition" among vendors seeking state business. The state bought the Oracle package without competitive bidding.

The Department of Finance would have responsibility for approving or rejecting proposed information technology projects, and ensuring that a fiscal analysis is done. The state did no fiscal analysis of the Oracle deal.

The Department of General Services also would be involved in procurement, as it is now. But a few departments would retain authority to bypass the Department of General Services and buy their own systems. All departments would create their own "strategic plan and vision" for computer systems, and "department-specific ethical standards" for state workers who oversee procurement.

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