After 18 years, CA readies child support database

An ugly history of IT ineptitude and mismanagement may be coming to and end.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
California has paid $1.2 billion in federal penalties during the past decade because it could not create a statewide computer system to track and help collect court-ordered child support payments, the San Diego Union Tribune reports.

The situation is a first-rate computer fiasco, as it has been almost 20 years since a federal law was passed requiring states to have a single automated child support system.

The state abandoned a $111 million computer system in 1997 and had to pay a court judgement of $46 million to a computer firm that said it was underpaid.

The state has also paid $1.6 billion for a child support computer system that officials hope will do the job.

Federal inspectors, who looked at the California system in January and February, are scheduled to return in June and August before deciding whether to certify that the state is in compliance with federal regulations.

“They have never had a certification process that is this complex and this large,” said Greta Wallace, director of the state Department of Child Support Services. “I don't believe there will be any surprises in what they will see.”

J. Clark Kelso, California's CIO, is also hopeful.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed,” Kelso said. “It does reflect a more sophisticated approach to doing big information technology projects in California.”
Kelso issued a report last month that said the state has 117 information technology projects under way that will cost more than $5 billion when completed. Kelso's report lists four failed state computer projects (child support, motor vehicles, corrections and welfare) that cost the state roughly $500 million during the past decade.

There is some light, though. In the past 4-1/2 years, the state has abandoned only one computer project: a developmental disabilities system stopped after only $10 million had been spent.

“The hard truth established by these results is that IT (information technology) projects – whether undertaken in the private sector or the public sector – are risky, complete success is difficult to achieve, and outright failure or abandonment is common,” said Kelso's report.
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