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California's Licensing Project Expected to Cost $96 Million

A California licensing and enforcement portal is failing in most ways, according to a recent auditor's report.

According to an auditor’s report released Feb. 12, California is continuing to waste money on large, ineffective IT projects, the Sacramento Bee reported.

An online licensing and enforcement system initiated in 2009 – called BrEZe – was expected to cost $28 million. The project has now cost the state $37 million, and the Department of Consumer Affairs expects the project will ultimately cost $96 million if seen through to completion. Of the original 19 licensing and regulatory boards and commissions that had intended to use the system, about half are actually using it.

Since the project began, glitches and problems have interrupted the normal flow of business in the state. In 2013, Consumer Affairs moved many boards and commissions for health professionals onto the BreZEe system, which caused delays and led to the misplacement of test data that set back some nursing school graduates three months.

“The BreEZe project has been plagued with performance problems, significant delays, and escalating costs,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote. “Consumer Affairs failed to adequately plan, staff, and manage the project for developing BreEZe.”

Some mismanagement fun-facts include that the project’s first phase of testing took 11 months instead of the planned eight weeks; more than 1,000 bugs remain in the system despite the prolonged testing period; the Department of Technology failed to intervene on the flailing project for more than a year, “despite being aware of significant problems;” vendor contracts that were not living up to their promises were written in a way that did not adequately protect the state; and no one who is using the system is satisfied with its performance, according to survey data.

The report also concluded that some BrEZe vendor contracts held taxpayers accountable for unnecessary risk. For example, if contractor Accenture chose to use copyrighted software in its implementation rather than develop its own code, Consumer Affairs would be held liable for any copyright violation. Consumer Affairs explained that they took on this increased risk as a bargaining tool to prevent Accenture from pulling out of the bidding process.

Consumer Affairs Director Awet Kidane wrote a letter to the auditor in which he stated that his department “is committed to implementing the auditor’s recommendations” to fix the manifold problems, which include a lack of oversight, a lack of annual reports to the legislature, and a lack of a cost-benefit analysis that would allow policy makers to judge the project’s merits and make a decision on its future.

On the morning of Feb. 13, the website could not be safely visited due to the site’s security certificate not being trusted by some Web browsers, but as of the afternoon the issue appeared to be fixed.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.