complex computer systems the same way they purchased asphalt for roads -- based on low bids and rigid specifications. The results have been disastrous. Many of the project's cost overruns can be traced back to the flawed procurement process as well as the formation of the original contract between Lockheed and the state, according to a report issued in April 1997 by Assemblywoman Alquist's committee.
The report, Will SACSS Ever Really Work?, pointed out that Lockheed was in the enviable position of enforcing a contract with few protections for the state. As a result, California "was forced to assume increased project costs caused by forgotten tasks and schedule slippage." By 1995, estimates for SACSS had soared to $260 million, of which over $100 million was to be paid directly to Lockheed.
Unable to Perform
When the Health and Welfare Data Center (HWDC), the state agency charged with overseeing SACSS, attempted to install the system in Fresno County -- the largest pilot county testing the system -- they encountered significant problems. An assessment by the state found the application was unable to perform daily business operations, including a forms generation system that didn't work at all. Fresno wasn't the only county to run into problems with SACSS. Other counties stopped using the system, complaining that data popped up in the wrong place; parents could not be tracked down; and that the software, which uses more than 350 screens to manage child support, was simply too hard to operate.
According to Bill Otterbeck, a project manager with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, the reason no more than a handful of counties use SACSS right now has to do with credibility. "We have to trust the data, and there was a real question whether that was possible with SACSS," he said. Otterbeck pointed out that with an unreliable system, counties might fail to disburse funds to a custodial parent or credit a noncustodial parent for making a disbursement.
In January 1997, HWDC hired Logicon, an independent firm, to verify and validate SACSS. One month later, Logicon filed a report listing 1,400 problems plaguing SACSS, many of which related to shortcomings with project management. Logicon concluded by expressing concern that the problems could ever be solved. One reason for the concern was Lockheed's shuffling of its staff members amongst the numerous state child support projects it contracted for, reducing the number of experienced staff working on SACSS and delaying the rollout of the system.
Another troubling aspect in the demise of SACSS has been the power struggle between the counties and the state over the direction of the system's development. In California, the district attorneys of the 58 counties administer and operate child support through their family support offices. Originally, SACSS was intended to link all 58 counties and connect them with the database systems of state agencies -- including motor vehicle, employment and tax revenue databases -- to increase the chances of locating absent parents and their assets.
California's counties have traditionally sought a more decentralized child support system; one that allows counties of different sizes to create systems that meet their specific needs. From the state perspective, this kind of multijurisdictional system, versus a single statewide model, is difficult to implement. California already has struggled with the counties over the direction of its Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS), another statewide project that has had a troubled past.
In fact, Lockheed stated that part of the problem with implementing SACSS had been that counties repeatedly asked for changes in the system. Leora Gershenzon, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, an organization that has kept close tabs on SACSS, blames the system's failure directly on the state/county power struggle for control of SACSS. "What killed the system the most was that the state allowed politically powerful counties to customize it to the point