Sac Bee Op-Ed Calls AOC’s Cost Estimates for CCMS “Fishy”

Clark Kelso had his say in the Sacramento Bee when he came to the defense of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the over $1 billion cost estimates for the AOC’s CCMS computer project. Now the Bee has published another op-ed piece this time attacking Kelso’s assertion that CCMS would cost no more than $1.4 billion. The piece, written by Richard Power, who is a columnist for the Daily Recorder as well as a practicing attorney and software writer, says that any new software for the courts should cost no “more than $1 million or $2 million.”

Kelso stated the cost figures were grossly inflated and the courts’ system shouldn’t cost any more than the $1.4 billion child support project. That project was done twice at huge cost. The $1.4 billion price tag for the second version was ridiculous. The Administrative Office of the Courts told the Legislature the system would cost $1.75 billion.

Contrary to what Kelso opined, $1.4 billion is way off the charts. The cost to write all the specialty software for managing court data and all the specialty software to allow associated agencies to share data and to educate users should not be more than $1 million or $2 million.

I’m no computer software expert, that’s for sure. So I’m not sure what to make of Mr. Power’s claims that the software for the entire court system that’s supposed to do everything the AOC claims it’ll do except power the Universe will cost no more than a couple million. That’s a HUGE world of difference than the $1.4 or $1.75 billion dollar figures that some estimate CCMS will wind up costing taxpayers.

But is Mr. Power’s cost estimates anymore unreasonable than the billion dollar estimates given by the AOC? According to Mr. Power, for the $500 million the AOC has already spent on CCMS the agency should have had SOMETHING to show for the money it spent.

Software to handle court case data and share it with associated agencies could be created in a matter of weeks.

About $500 million has been spent so far on the court system and not a single county is fully operational. The final software version just for the court portion hasn’t even been written after years of effort. And they haven’t even started figuring out how to share data bilaterally with associated agencies.

Yikes!  $500 million is a whole lot of money to spend without some evidence that you’re creating something.  But I’m sure the PR department deep within the recesses of the AOC offices are cranking up the old Imperial mimeographs to start counteracting Mr. Power’s op-ed piece.  Expect the CCMS supporters to come out with blasters firing.

However, there is one thing that Mr. Power says in his op-ed piece that I’m sure not even the myopic AOC could take offense with.  When he says that, “It’s time for some fiscal responsibility and common sense,” he’s only repeating what critics of the CCMS have been saying for years.  And as we’ve seen so far, contrary to whatever the AOC may claim, “fiscal responsibility” and “common sense” are two things that are in short supply over at the AOC.

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14 responses to “Sac Bee Op-Ed Calls AOC’s Cost Estimates for CCMS “Fishy”

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Look at the bright side-

    In 2006, CCMS was 3 years away.

    In 2007, CCMS was 3 years away

    In 2008, CCMS was 3 years away

    And finally in 2009, CCMS is only 3 years away

  2. I find this depressing. He may be right on the software side, but the situation on the courts’ side is grim and confused. Hasn’t CCMS now become synonymous with “outdated court systems”? That is the excuse that has and will continue to be used for a complete failure to execute and complete. The only success I can identify has been the spending of gigantic sums of money.

  3. Indeed. Pass the scotch.

    “Avatar” cost $230 million. I would have gladly paid first-time director Calabro $18 if she had completed her never-ending, billion-dollar plus opus on time.

  4. I hear ya, it is depressing. However, folks are keeping up the heat on the AOC in the papers and that gives me hope. The ACJ gives me hope. CJA coming out and taking a stand gives me hope. Michael Paul gives me hope. Hope that this exposure will lead to sunshine on the AOC and the JC that we need.

  5. You know, I’m not a rocket scientist but when you have people who are ignorant about software contracting with one, sole source provider, wouldn’t that pretty much be the perfect set up to be milked? In my humble opinion, either we have a situation of out of control negligence via ignorance or someone on the inside who is on the take…or a little of both?

    Don’t be discouraged or depressed folks! The damage that has been done is already done…and what is REALLY important at this stage is what lies immediately before us and how we allow the past (and current?) damage to influence positive change now! The word is getting out and the momentum of truth is growing! Just be sure to do your part in all of this if you have an opportunity! I have extreme hope for positive change, and that’s my cheerleader post for the day!

  6. A couple of observations –

    – I am sure Mr. Power knows more about computer software development than I do. The $1 to $2 million sounds a little optomistic. However, even if the AOC spent only $400 million on a case management system that would be more than any other state has spent on a CMS by a factor of 3 or 4 (at least).

    – It doesn’t really matter what CCMS costs, because the AOC doesn’t have the money to pay for it and has no idea where it will get the money. More importantly, the AOC never had the money to pay for it. The AOC claims it had the money to pay for it but they had to delay deployment because of the state budget crisis. That is simply not true. In 2008 the AOC came up with a funding strategy that relied on completely exhausting AOC special funds. The shortfall was about $610 million. The AOC planned to get $250 million from the trial courts to cover a portion of the shortfall. Unfortunately, the trial courts did not have anywhere close to $250 million needed for CCMS.

    According to the AOC the remaining $360 million would come from the legislature through augmentations from the general fund. In 2008 the AOC actually thought the governor and legis would simply hand over almost $400 million when the state was heading toward the worst budget crisis in history.

    Therefore, the AOC’s funding plan relied on receiving almost 50% of the funds from 3rd parties, with no guarantee the money would be available when needed.

    I wonder if the AOC told the JC that it didn’t have the money for its $1.0+ billion project? I wonder if the AOC told the JC that the project would cost more than a billion dollars? If so, when?

    – It is difficult to overstate how poorly the AOC managed this project. The lack of planning and design is astounding. It would be similar to to a person who began building a house without a budget, a source of funds to pay the house, blueprints, a materials list or a hammer.

    Apparently the JC governance policy does not require it to become involved in issues such as whether the AOC has a plan to build a $1.0 billion CMS or the funds to pay for the system. Apparently, the JC involvement ends with teh policy directive that a statewide case management system should be developed. It must, because an often-repeated justification given by the AOC for proceeding with the project is that it is “JC policy and it is gong to happen.”

    – The fact that the AOC has already spent $400 million on this project is not a justification for continuing to spend money on it. One bad decision (or a series of bad decisions) should not require equally poor decisions. The project should be suspended, a buyout negotiated with the consultant and a complete review of the project by independent financial and IT auditors requried.

    – This issue directly relates to personnel compensation issues that came up before the JC last week. The director in charge of CCMS received a 10% raise. Given the history of the project I would think Justice Huffman would be interested in what she did to deserve a raise which results in her salary being increased so it is now $20K a year more than what a superior court judge makes. With a better retirement plan than JRSII. At a minimum, you would think he and other JC members would question the judgment of the AD and CJ in approving this pay increase.

    – What seems to get lost in all of this is the cost benefit analysis. Even if CCMS does everything it supposed to do, was it worth the $1.4+billion price tag, the 10 to 15 years in delay, the tradeoffs that have been made in terms of budget priorities (furloughs, court closures, layoffs), etc.

    Hopefully, as a result of the exposure from the ACJ, this blog, the media, the legislature, etc., will motiviate the JC to re-evaluate it priorities.

    • World B. Free: Excellent outline of the state of affairs, and I agree with your assessment. Cause and effect are inherently related.

      When issues are decided based on partial or inaccurate information, the outcome is rarely positive. Unfortunately, taking a “rubber stamp” approach of “this is just the way it is” seems to be the running mantra of the AOC regardless of the subject matter or situation at hand. As a result, the consequences have clearly been detrimental.

      I, too, hope the members of the council will take two steps back to reanalyze what is truly important here! The good of the whole demands it at this stage, if faith and confidence is to be restored in the judicial system, especially if a goal exists of continued operations of the courts on a local level to serve the public.

      And, in closing, I finally figured out my wish-list for Santa. I have one, single, special request:

      That the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council members, and the upper AOC management truly, truly understand that dissent doesn’t make those in disagreement the enemy. Quite the contrary. We care and because we care, we step forward to support what we believe is right, just and proper. That with this new insight, we can all work together to right the wrongs and build a stronger judicial system that truly serves those for which it was created.

      Is that too much to ask, Santa?

  7. World B. Free, thank you for your excellent summation of the facts regarding CCMS.

    The trial court CEOs for years have been telling the AOC they could not fund CCMS, and questioned why their fine working much less expensive case mangement systems should be replaced. Even if a court had some reserves, after a time that would run out. So what were they supposed to do? Hope that CCMS would reduce staffing through “efficiencies” so they could lay off staff to pay for it? Read again the cost and amount of work CCMS created (in just a few case types! can you imagine how time consuming and expensive it would be for high volume case types such as criminal and traffic?) it caused for the SACTO court in the op ed by the judges posted here. Duh as I have said before management 101: don’t make any promises that technology will provide so much effieciences that staff can be reduced or re-directed elsewhere.

    The bottom line is that in addition to these projects being wasteful and irresponsible, the AOC wants to redirect so much of the trial courts base line budget to their control so that the trial courts no longer have any discretionary funding. What better way to centralize power over the branch?

  8. Thank you WBF for shedding more light on what happened. This is a hard thing for people to understand, even AOC employees, but there really was no plan or budget created before embarking on a major California IT project (and this project was linear, even for a newbie! “Develop a common case type software, purchase equipment, install and test, train employees” would have worked, but they did not even plan that much). That is why too there is no plan now to pay for it. Once Deloitte started getting money, it never stopped flowing in their direction. And now we are all watching the AOC Executive Team play the old game show “What’s My Line?” but no one wants to stand up and say, “My name is ___, and I know exactly how this horrible situation happened.” That action might be a little too brave. Sweet dreams.

  9. I am a software engineer with 15+ years of experience who used to work for the AOC.

    $1 million should be more than enough to build a custom court data management system for the CA trial courts given the volume of transactions and data, provided you know how to manage software development which clearly the AOC does not know how to do.

    To even suggest that any software should cost over $500 million, let alone $1 billion, is more than enough proof of gross incompetence.

    No one in the private sector would ever put up with such utter idiocy.

    It doesn’t really surprise me though – AOC’s IT management had one main goal, from what I could tell during the brief time I was there – to hire expensive consultants to take the blame so that they would never have to be fully responsible for anything. Actually delivering a viable product that works and meets users needs was never a real focus.

  10. ahhh Mermaid, if they really cared about the branch, would we be in this situation? Their only interest is their power. As sad as it is to say, that is the hard cold truth.

  11. So how many voices in and out of the courts does it take to explain that the AOC’s computer project is a bloated failure? Yes, it is needed. But can’t the adults come to the table and work on it? Mr. Power’s raises several good points. But as complicated as the AOC has made the project, Powers attempts to make it too simple. No project like this, high tech or not, should cost the taxpayer $2 Billion (or $1.75 Billion or $1.35 Billion or anything with “billion” on the check). The AOC are not the adults here. They have obfuscated, attacked their critics and back peddled. They have not done the right things: Have an outside audit,curb Deloitte’s excesses and put some serious, intelligent managers to work to save this project. Will they do it? No. Why? Because no one in Sacramento will do the right thing and fire the AOC off this project. How many more courts will be closed and how many employees fired and how many litigants turned off by the court system before this travesty is addressed?

  12. courtflea, Yea, you are probably right, because those who abuse power can rarely see the truth of matters, especially when attempting to protect the power they hold. However, I can still ask Santa for the impossible because, just like the gift that I requested, Santa doesn’t really exist, either! (laughs)

    In all seriousness, I was greatly disturbed by Judge Hoffman’s response at last week’s council meeting. To me, his knee-jerk reaction was not only disrespectful, but was delivered in an emotional style as if he were responding to an enemy! I thought Judges were expected to push personal emotions to the side to fully analyze the facts on the ground before making a decision!?

    As you are well aware, the same type of responses are common within the AOC. Anyone who disagrees with them is automatically labeled the enemy, so it doesn’t really matter what the message is or what truth it holds, it won’t be heard. That was the point I was trying to make but, apparently, did a bad job of it? I blame the keyboard!

  13. First, I must confess I’m not a software development expert but this is the problem the way I understand it. If there is anyone out there that understands differently, please correct me.

    In a nutshell and in laywoman’s terms, instead of the AOC creating a brand new system from scratch….to use state-wide which would then be completely compatible across the board without major bugs and glitches, they tried to create a state-wide system to integrate with the existing local court systems (or vice versa?).

    The problem with this was that the local court system software was already majorly outdated….so basically they were attempting to mount a loose shiny new diamond into an old plastic setting and it just won’t hold the diamond securely in place!

    Again, correct me if I’m wrong on this but this is the way my computer-challenged mind understands it! Any software experts out there?