Time To Rein In AOC’s Software Spending Habit

CutCreditCard02With the date of October 28th set for the AOC to appear before a legislative committee, the AOC is preparing itself for the most focused attention the agency has ever received. Since the AOC first announced budget cuts and court closures, the number of critics have only risen and their criticism of the agency has gotten louder and louder.

One of the main points of criticism has been the AOC’s fanatical devotion to funding the California Case Management System, (CCMS) the AOC’s supposedly miracle software that once implemented will tie all California superior courts together under one software system. It’s an admirable goal to achieve in the future, but it’s a goal that critics say must be delayed in order to address current needs.

And although the AOC has said in no uncertain terms that it will not defer funding for the completion of CCMS, it will have a difficult time explaining its position before the Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review in light of an article recently published in the Daily Journal. In the article reporter Amy Yarbrough details how costs for CCMS have grown by more than a third since the initial release of the memo to judges. The memo stated that CCMS would cost $1.3 billion. However a more recent report states that final overall costs would bring the project to a total of $1.75 billion.

It should come as no surprise then to anyone that CCMS has cost taxpayers five times more than what the AOC originally said it would cost. From the article:

“The sum [$1.75] is nearly five times more than what the agency expected the project to cost in 2006, and the system will be completed no sooner than 2013, three years later than expected. Philip Carrizosa, an AOC spokesman, confirmed the $1.4 billion in projected expenses.

If you’re wondering where things began to go wrong with CCMS, you need only look to the portion of the article that details the birth of the program.

In 2001, the project officially launched with $21 million in seed money approved by the Legislature from judicial branch special funds – the Trial Court Improvement Fund and the Modernization Fund.
The agency said it is unable to provide budgets or a timeline for the project from 2001. It also said that, even if it had them, they would not be accurate because the project has evolved from those early stages to something much more ambitious.

Pay attention to these words in that last sentence: “the project has evolved from those early stages to something much more ambitious.” In other words, the AOC, free of any budgetary review, kept adding to this project until it turned into an almost $2 billion monster that continues to grow with each fiscal year. This is EXACTLY what happens when you have agencies running wild with state monies with nobody holding them accountable for how much they’ve spent and what they’ve spent it on.

But it isn’t like there were doubters of the AOC’s CCMS software.  In fact, Ms. Yarborough’s article states that as early as 2004 the Legislaive Analyst’s Office foresaw problems that would arise.

In a February 2004 report, the Legislative Analyst’s Office warned there was too little scrutiny and controls on CCMS – and a companion project to create a statewide accounting system – and that “the state’s financial exposure is potentially significant.”

The executive branch is required to submit risk mitigations and oversight plans before undertaking technology projects, the LAO noted. But there is no such requirement on the courts.   Instead of being subject to legislative scrutiny, internally appointed steering committees that “do not have adequate information to do their job effectively” were overseeing the massive technology upgrades, the report said.

It notes the AOC had provided no information as to the projected cost at each major phase of the project. “Without such information, we do not believe that AOC’s steering committees will be able to effectively monitor the projects. This places the courts at greater risk for cost overruns, and delays for lack of adequate funding to complete the projects,” the report read.

If there are members of the Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review reading this post, I would definitely urge you to reread the LAO’s 2004 report and note that any “financial exposure” that is “potentially significant” is because there has been little to no “scrutiny and controls.” In other words, the AOC has been given a credit card, funded by California citizens, to spend to its heart’s content with the AOC left in the enviable position of not having to explain how it charges on that credit card. It’s time for the legislature to take that credit card back, cut it in half, and put the AOC on a strict budget. It’s the very least that the citizens of this great state would expect from the legislature.

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