Editor's Note: At the close of business on Friday, June 28, a rare thing happened in California government: A state agency permanently shut its doors due to a sunset clause in the legislation that created it.
That agency was the Department of Information Technology (DOIT) - and the biggest state in the nation has been without a central IT agency ever since. Much like poking through the ruins of a failed romance, finding one clear and compelling reason that explains the end is impossible.
DOIT appears to have fallen prey to three powerful forces - politics, performance and perception - that, over time, exerted sufficient pressure to snuff out the agency's life. The quirks of California politics may have played a significant role in DOIT's demise, but what happened to the agency offers a lesson for any jurisdiction on what not to do when creating a strong, centralized IT department.
California's Department of Information Technology went out with a bang.
The final straw was a visible and highly controversial contract between the state of California and Oracle Corp. for database software licenses. The deal generated plenty of heat for DOIT, and the state's Joint Legislative Audit Committee conducted a public inquiry into the huge enterprise licensing agreement.
The contract's seemingly hasty approval by several key state government officials sparked suspicion in the California Legislature, triggering the audit committee investigation. As a result of the probe, several key players in Gov. Gray Davis' administration were forced to resign or were fired, depending on one's point of view, including: Arun Baheti, Davis' director of electronic government; Barry Keene, director of the Department of General Services; and California CIO Elias Cortez.
Though it's tempting to blame the Oracle contract for DOIT's death, it's not a simple cause-and-effect scenario.
"Oracle killed DOIT, but it was on life support when Oracle happened," said state Sen. Debra Bowen, who has been heavily involved in California technology issues. "I think it was already doomed, and Oracle took away desire that anybody had to try to save it. People figured we would just be better off starting over."
To understand how DOIT reached this precarious position, it's necessary to take a trip back in time.
Ironically, DOIT was created to stop technology disasters such as the Oracle contract.
In the 1990s, California was smarting over a string of high-profile IT fiascos - a botched State Lottery technology contract in 1992 that cost the state $52 million; a 1994 DMV database debacle where California paid $51 million for a system that was never used because it couldn't do what it was supposed to; and the failure in 1997 of a Statewide Automated Child Support System (SACSS) that cost taxpayers a whopping $111 million.
One factor in this series of failures was the lack of a central oversight organization to approve state IT project proposals. Instead, California employed a cumbersome approval process that scattered responsibility across a handful of separate agencies.
The Office of Information Technology (OIT), part of California's Department of Finance, had limited responsibility for IT projects. If a state agency had an itch to implement an IT project, that agency had to secure OIT's blessing before it could begin.
The next stop was the Department of General Services (DGS), which oversaw procurement in the state. DGS would review the agency's purchase request for compliance with the applicable policies. Finally, the Department of Finance signed off on the agency's proposal, allowing the agency to spend part of its budget on the IT project.
However, none of these agencies had the power to pull the plug on approved projects if they began to turn sour.
Former Gov. Pete Wilson was unlucky enough to hold office when the DMV fiasco forced