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California Cancels $208 Million IT Overhaul Halfway Through

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the money-well-spent dept.

Government 185

g01d4 writes "According to the LA Times, 'California's computer problems, which have already cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, have mounted as state officials cut short work on a $208-million DMV technology overhaul that is only half done. The state has spent $135 million total on the overhaul so far. The state's contractor, HP Enterprise Services, has received nearly $50 million of the money spent on the project. Botello said the company will not receive the remaining $26 million in its contract. ... Last week, the controller's office fired the contractor responsible for a $371-million upgrade to the state's payroll system, citing a trial run filled with mishaps. More than $254 million has already been spent.' It's hard not to feel like the Tokyo man in the street watching the latest round of Godzilla the state vs. Rodan the big contractor."

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Try MeN! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915137)

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Typical of the Federal Government too (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915187)

They never finish anything they start, if it has the potential to actually benefit humanity.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (-1)

MrEricSir (398214) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915269)

Care to explain what the federal government has to do with the California DMV?

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (0)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915295)

Perhaps they're planning on secession?

Wouldn't hurt my butt.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (1, Insightful)

Atrox Canis (1266568) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915317)

Umm, I thought the AC post was at least on topic since he used the word "too" in the title. Just sayin'.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (0)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916315)

Agreed, but it's still a troll. Your post and my post are both -1 Offtopic.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (1, Informative)

nedlohs (1335013) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915529)

Maybe invest in a dictionary? The word "too" isn't just a random bunch of letters, it means something.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (5, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915709)

I thought it was an "emoticon" of a large breasted woman giving the finger.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (4, Funny)

St.Creed (853824) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916081)

I'll never look at that word the same way again :)

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (5, Insightful)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915333)

It's not about the government. It's all about the useless IT consulting companies. Pretty much every single flashy consulting company billboard/AD that you see at an airport is just a way to milk the gullible and not deliver. This is an across-the-board problem. Nobody wants to fucking do their jobs. The government thinks they don't need the right people to do it, so they hire a contractor. The contractor doesn't want to do the job either, it's not their core competency (nobody knows what it is anyway), so they hire subcontractors. Subcontractors have very little vested interest in anything, and they maybe deliver, maybe not, but due to multiple layers of clueless management, it's of no use anyway. So there you go.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (1, Insightful)

ogar572 (531320) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915541)

Pretty much sums it up.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (1, Insightful)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915877)

>95% of failed, past due or overbudget IT projects are a result of insufficient, incorrect or everchanging requirements from the customer organization and the people on our side who interface with them. It is a result of people thinking that computers are magic, large software projects are easy to change completely after they have been nearly completed, and people will understand what they mean instead of what they say.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (2, Informative)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915977)

Look, when you're an IT consultant company, your first job is to do a discovery project that is aimed precisely at defining exactly what the project is -- in absence of proper requirements. Heck, if it's a bidding process, you must also do due diligence -- that would typically involve talking to the customer(s), talking to their employees, etc. It's your own fault, as a consulting company, if you can't deliver. You must be able to tell that the customer is too clueless to make it work. It's your fucking job.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (0)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916157)

I am not a consulting company, no it is not my job to make other people do their job. You are blaming lazy developers, when you should be blaming lazy, fickle customers who are incapable of knowing what they want or need and change their mind every damn week, and then demand that you rework everything to meet whatever happens to be their fleeting fancy of the week. Even a good architect faced with that kind of BS that I see every day has a choice of submitting or telling them to go fuck themselves, and architects are rarely allowed to tell the customer to fuck off.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916479)

Bullshit. This is the typical lazy attitude the GP is talking about. If the customers don't know what they want, you teach them. Just doing what they initially say, and afterwards saying yourself "it was what you asked for," when it really wasn't, is EXACTLY the problem. Too lazy, or dumb, to see the bigger picture, and that is why you have the reputation you get. But that's okay, just blame the consumer.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916561)

No. You are not getting it. It doesn't matter how hard you try, they NEVER know what they want. It will change, and they will expect you to turn everything around. Often they expect you to do that without delays or additional costs, or both. You can teach them what they want, they may even agree for a short time, but not for long.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916227)

Continually charging customers who are too clueless to EVER make it work is the business plan of pretty much every large IT consultant company.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (2)

steelfood (895457) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916009)

Nobody wants to fucking do their jobs.

That about sums it up right there.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (5, Insightful)

Virtucon (127420) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916053)

Oh good grief what a bunch of bunk. Do you know why big contracting companies exist? It's because companies have lost faith in their internal organizations to deliver. Plain and simple. I've seen it in dozens of organizations in my career where an entrenched group builds a castle of "can't." So, the execs hire an outside firm not only to get what they want but to also force these little castles to actually deliver something. Lazy contractors? Please, how about lazy employees who feel that they hold the keys and as long as they keep pushing back and feel empowered so nobody is going to mess with their careers even though they may be doing such innovative things like writing System 360 Assembly Language. It's everywhere and it's not just in IT, people in this country have become lazy and foolish relying on attitude rather than customer service and trying to do a good job.
Every large organization has this problem and IT isn't just one of the areas where dead space can occur. So, the big companies come in, push change, make big promises that sometimes are overblown. In the case of California I could probably guess that the specifications of what were required were done by bureaucrats who have no clue on how to spec out requirements or were based on something that wasn't possible to build. Are there bad firms? yes, but are there bad customers? hell yes and they can make it absolutely impossible to deliver anything because the same people who have to approve or test anything are usually overworked, or not committed to the project leaving the contractor and subsequently the whole project in limbo. That usually leaves to failure despite the best efforts of all parties involved.

So before you blame consulting companies for this failure, remember they wouldn't exist if people were doing their job or came to the realization that their skills and abilities are out of alignment with what their management expects.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (2)

Bigby (659157) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916843)

Companies lost faith in their internal organizations? No, chicken shit unknowledgeable managers (not companies) don't want to take responsibility for doing anything more complex than a CRUD service, so they send it to Accenture and IBM. It is a big blame game and a web of CYAs.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916163)

This. I hired a popular 'big' construction company to do some renovations on my business. They got as far as fucking everything up and then holding on to the money as long as possible. It took a lawsuit and a solid WEEK in civil court to get them to give ANY of the money back. Once they were court ordered to give the money back, they received extension after extension and after all was said and done, I had my money back and then had to shop for other people to do the work.

Guess what? Very few of them would even continue the conversation after they learned who my company was. So I sat there for three months without a physical location for my business, while the city told me over and over I had to do something with it. Only through extensive paperwork and documentation was I able to prove that I was pretty much blackballed from all the local construction companies. I ended up paying something like 3x the original cost (basically 3x more than market value) for the work.

So you're basically screwed. If you retaliate legally for them not doing their job JUST to end up with your money back, you get blackballed and no one will deal with you unless you pay them a ton more. If you don't retaliate legally, you've basically wasted the money. This is probably where they stand right now.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (1)

interval1066 (668936) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916263)

It's not about the government. It's all about the useless IT consulting companies.

Funny, having worked with many consultants over the years my company hasn't had problems with them to this extent. If they were universally bad you'd think private companies would dump them. Which of course we do when they screw up. You're barking up the wrong tree. The problem is lax government oversite, its not thier money, they don't give a shit.

Re:Typical of the Federal Government too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916671)

having done jobs that were sent to hp enterprise services > global regional subcontractor > north american subcontractor > regional coordinator > state coordinator > me, I concur. Even being competent doesn't matter. The whole system is screwed before it ever get to me. I often find problems I can't touch (not part of my portion of the contract pie) and sometimes I file a ticket when I find an issue and wait 2 weeks to be called back to fix it because the people that are supposed to be doing the monitoring don't.

Sadly (3, Insightful)

mu51c10rd (187182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915197)

And this is the state that has Silicon Valley...you would think there would be a lot of good expertise in the computing arena for the state to tap in to. However, in their defense, this happens constantly in the federal government too. So much money wasted...

Re:Sadly (1, Insightful)

Teresita (982888) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915233)

Same thing will happen to the high speed rail, and California will have a $50 billion dollar track between Hooterville and Jerkwater.

Re:Sadly (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915513)

So true. I personally can't believe the idiocy with this high speed rail shit. It's this new buzzword morons spout out when they're talking about "creating" jobs. Ohhh China has it. We can too. Nevermind China has hundreds of millions of people in close proximity which makes it actually worthwhile...

Re:Sadly (4, Informative)

MrEricSir (398214) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915241)

In fact, this very scenario has happened a decade before [cnet.com] , albet with Oracle instead of HP.

Re:Sadly (2, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915549)

Doesn't that make it IBMs turn next?

Re:Sadly (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915793)

Back in my day, EDS were the masters at cost overruns and delays on cost-plus government IT projects.

Re:Sadly (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915891)

And they still are!

Re:Sadly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915839)

No, usually some tiny companies come in then do 80% of the work before $giant_consulting_company comes in again and fucks everything up while bleeding budgets dry for a few years. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Re:Sadly (3, Insightful)

TFAFalcon (1839122) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915251)

Why finish a project someone is paying you for? Do enough (cheaply) to get 50% of the payout, get fired, form a new company and get hired again.

Re:Sadly (4, Insightful)

doctor woot (2779597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915283)

you would think there would be a lot of good expertise in the computing arena for the state to tap in to.

Ahahaha, with our government? If they even had the slightest idea of how important it was to stay out of the fucking 1980's with IT equipment that serves critical functions for the state and its citizens, they wouldn't have waited for the problem to "cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars" to do anything about it.

If they can't get that much straight, how can they possibly hope to know what technical criterion to look for when hiring contractors?

Re:Sadly (1)

Reverand Dave (1959652) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915635)

This is the most accurate post ever posted on /.

Re:Sadly (5, Informative)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915823)

how important it was to stay out of the fucking 1980's with IT equipment that serves critical functions

Talk about blanket statements. I suspect that there is quite a bit of 1980s IT equipment in your life that you are not even aware of.

The problem is not what decade the equipment comes from, it is whether or not the equipment meets its requirements. If equipment from the 1980s is continuing to meet the requirements that governments face today, then there is no reason to spend enormous amounts of tax money to replace that equipment unless doing so will pay for itself before the next upgrade. Unfortunately, there are few cases where such upgrades actually do pay for themselves, so in terms of what is best to do with tax dollars, upgrading old equipment that continues to function as needed is questionable.

Now, if the equipment is not working, then it is time to replace it. The real problem is that government contracts are not typically given to companies deemed best for the job, and so these situations arise. Contracts are awarded to companies that bid low and to companies that are well-connected, even when better companies are available.

Re:Sadly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916683)

" Contracts are awarded to companies that bid low and to companies that are well-connected, even when better companies are available."

In my experience the "well-connected" is by far more important than the "bid low". Most of the big deals like this have people on the inside getting kickbacks* from these contracts, so as long as these internal people can justify the bid price in some fashion it doesn't matter whether it's actually a competitive bid.

* I realize there are a lot of checks in place to prevent kickbacks, but never underestimate how clever and cunning these people can be when it comes to getting their hands in the cookie jar. In reality there is almost always some sort of subtle kickback scheme at play with any sizable contract.

Re:Sadly (2)

doctor woot (2779597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916927)

how important it was to stay out of the fucking 1980's with IT equipment that serves critical functions

Talk about blanket statements. I suspect that there is quite a bit of 1980s IT equipment in your life that you are not even aware of.

Possibly, but I'm aware that I do use a lot of tech that wasn't invented within the past decade. My last post was ambiguously worded and I apologize, it would have been better to say "not stay in the 1980's". Even people who know nothing about IT understand it's a poor decision to just implement the infrastructure and call it a day. When you're doing something that affects the security of the personal information of millions of people, there's a lot to carefully consider. I've yet to see a politician in California that honestly appreciates this fact.

The problem is not what decade the equipment comes from, it is whether or not the equipment meets its requirements. If equipment from the 1980s is continuing to meet the requirements that governments face today, then there is no reason to spend enormous amounts of tax money to replace that equipment unless doing so will pay for itself before the next upgrade. Unfortunately, there are few cases where such upgrades actually do pay for themselves, so in terms of what is best to do with tax dollars, upgrading old equipment that continues to function as needed is questionable.

It's not a matter of overhauling with every single upgrade; on top of maintaining machines as needed it can be as simple as a network-wide software patch. Maintaining IT equipment costs money, period. This isn't some kid's dedicated Counter-Strike server we're talking about here, this is a department that should be getting every cent necessary to ensure integrity. That politicians don't care to pay people who understand this sort of thing the money they ask for in order to watch over these systems is evidenced by them waiting till the problem is costing hundreds of millions of dollars, then paying a few more million dollars to get the problem... not fixed.

Now, if the equipment is not working, then it is time to replace it.

I would argue that there are more reasons to upgrade old equipment than it just not working altogether.

The real problem is that government contracts are not typically given to companies deemed best for the job, and so these situations arise. Contracts are awarded to companies that bid low and to companies that are well-connected, even when better companies are available.

That's certainly a problem, yes. And that just goes back to my original point, which is if they had even cared at all to understand the technology which they so heavily rely on they wouldn't be jackassing around like that.

Re:Sadly (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915391)

"However, in their defense, this happens constantly in the federal government too. So much money wasted..."

How in the fucking hell is that a defense of any-damned-thing?

Idiots.

Re:Sadly (1)

suutar (1860506) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915539)

You'd think, but when the contract was awarded, it was to a company in Texas, not CA (EDS was a Texas-based company before HP bought them).

Re:Sadly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915587)

You have made the mistake everyone seems to make, and I mean everyone.

The Silicon Valley employs some of the world's most brilliant ENGINEERS.

The State has always had a policy against employing reasonably qualified Accountants, Auditors, and Budget Officers. The ruling Party views accounting types with utter contempt, "just a bunch of over paid bookkeepers."

Re:Sadly (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915789)

So much money wasted...

It would be understandable if that were the case, but instances like these usually fall into the category of "systematically engineered to extract every last cent of tax dollars out of the project before shitcanning the whole works as an OOPS"

The only other explanation for such negligence and runaway overspending is sheer idiocy -- and I don't think people who get approved to spend that much money are all that stupid.

Re:Sadly (2)

St.Creed (853824) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916351)

I'm currently working on an IT project on one of the worse govt departments in my country. They have a reputation for horrible performance, both in their normal operations and in the IT department as well. They were officially reprimanded by the government accounting office a few years back for failure to control their own organisation. The project is a frigging mess, it's the worst project I've ever seen in a professional setting, even compared to municipal IT which is mainly "amateur time".

The main problem is that this organisation thinks IT is not its core business. So they have no competent people to determine what needs to be done and especially to determine resources. They don't even have an IT department, only an infrastructure support department. And that is the whole problem. I could spend hours discussing the hilarious and horrendous "project" I'm in, but mainly it's a matter of management totally and completely dropping the ball on this.

Re:Sadly (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915921)

> And this is the state that has Silicon Valley...you would think there would be a lot of good expertise in the computing arena for the state to tap in to.

There is, but these kind of contracts are awarded to bidders based on their size, not on their competence. It's like the old adage: no one gets fired for buying IBM. No one gets fired for awarding to a large mufti-national IT consultancy firm. Buying from a boutique shop of 10 to 20 guys that came together just to bid on your contract though? Sorry, they haven't "demonstrated capacity to complete the project."

A large IT consultancy firm has incentive to underbid and then drag out the project as long as possible (so that they can extract more fees). Government agents have incentives to let them. It's the way that it will continue to be as long as they insist on a waterfall bidding process, followed by scope-creep during implementation.

Fallacy of Sunk Costs (5, Insightful)

Galaga88 (148206) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915237)

I'm glad to see that they didn't fall prey too badly to the fallacy of sunk costs [wikipedia.org] . Too many places wouldn't realize they've already lost the money they threw at the project, and no amount of extra spending in the hopes that it will eventually succeed will get that back.

Re:Fallacy of Sunk Costs (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915369)

I'm not glad to see that people can't see that big IT consulting corporations have all, without exception, degenerated into useless hulks that can't get anything done. Show me any large project that they undertake where the goals were completely met, and the user is happy. It's in the realm of fantasy, basically. Big IT consulting is basically a scam.

Re:Fallacy of Sunk Costs (1)

sunking2 (521698) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915441)

Bingo. We have a winner. As unpopular as this may be around here, IT is essentially a joke when it comes to endeavors such as the above.

Re:Fallacy of Sunk Costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916029)

"Bingo"
    You and tibit are on the right track. The _system_ is inherently inefficient and corrupt. Government specs it, bids are put out, lowest bid accepted, project drags on, money payed out, and nothing works. This has been going on since the earliest Perot days at EDS.
    Some things are just inherently handled better with a bunch of 3X5 cards and a wooden cabinet, and a working telephone. Of course, that requires a bunch of poorly paid workers, usually women, on the government payroll. But, but, "Gummint Bad! Outsource Good!"
    If the Manhattan Project was handled the current way, or the TVA, or Apollo...

    I'm sure that the HP executives involved will never be prosecuted, much less put up against a wall and shot. Too bad.
    (At my old job, a former HP exec was brought in to "Modernize" our Engineering systems. 18 months and a lot of screaming later, she accepted the offer to move on to new prospects. The damage was done and all the money was wasted... all the Macs and Suns and Alphas, and even the HP ME30 systems were gone, and were replaced by overpriced "commodity" Windows workstations, that always crashed, but at least they could run PeopleSoft, a delightful adjunct to a dedicated CAD workstation.)

Re:Fallacy of Sunk Costs (3, Interesting)

St.Creed (853824) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916401)

Last year a well known IT architect wrote an article titled "The Failure bonus" where he describes how the system for government IT contracts is set up in such a way that failure is rewarded richly, but performing better than specs will lead to unemployment at a rapid pace. It's not that big IT consultants are incompetent, it is that they are very competent at following the money.

That said: big projects are inherently impossible to complete and everyone in IT knows it. Government knows it too, big projects should be cut down to manageable size or abandoned. Putting out contracts on a "cash on delivery" basis would probably make that a much more viable option for small firms.

Re:Fallacy of Sunk Costs (1)

vbraga (228124) | about a year and a half ago | (#42917097)

Do you have a reference for that article? Or the author name?

So this upgrade (1)

Grand Facade (35180) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915289)

Went as well as the last?

Sounds familiar but on a smaller scale... (5, Informative)

Cornwallis (1188489) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915321)

HP screwed over Vermont: http://governor.vermont.gov/newsroom-Vermont-HP-reach-DMV-settlement-gov-shumlin [vermont.gov] in its attempt to redo the VT DMV.

Of course, we end up paying for the incompetence that drives the grossly misnamed Department of Information and Innovation...

Re:Sounds familiar but on a smaller scale... (1)

boguslinks (1117203) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915949)

Maybe if enough DMV projects around the country tank, governments will realize their DMVs are far too complex

Re:Sounds familiar but on a smaller scale... (3, Insightful)

PRMan (959735) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916199)

Or that HP sucks as a software company.

Re:Sounds familiar but on a smaller scale... (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916051)

The "king is naked" kind of a moment is when you realize that a lot of those projects could be done in 2-3 years by a dedicated team of 30 people. We're talking about $15M in total personnel costs, assuming you pay $150k gross per person. I'd absolutely love to be in such a team and actually deliver something that makes some local government somewhere more efficient, and their employees happy with the tech. It can be done, just requires proper mindset. Of course the bureaucrats the world over will fuck it up anyway.

Re:Sounds familiar but on a smaller scale... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916277)

Are you kidding? That would increase the number of people working for the government, which is, a priori, a bad thing to conservatives. And could you imagine the shit storm when the conservative press catches wind of an entire department of people getting paid six figures?

Would like to see this happen more (4, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915341)

If contractors knew that they projects would be cancelled, and maybe even be sued for breech of contract, we may not be wasting money like we are. In my state I see roads being built, software being delivered, all the time on budget and on time. it may not be the best but it is adequate. But it seems to be ok to spec the project inadequately, provide minimal funding knowing that more can be asked for later, just to con the tax payers into accepting a worthless or expensive project.

We see this all the time in the military. A low estimate is given on a minimally speced out project. Then as the project money is spent, the agencies go back to the congress and ask for more money, saying we already spent this money, and it won' really work the way we need it to. Instead of firing the con artists, and suing the contractors, and accepting the money as lost, we fund it more thus encouraging the fraudulent behavior.

Re:Would like to see this happen more (-1, Offtopic)

ganjadude (952775) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915469)

obamacare is a perfect example as well. the costs are 3X higher than we were told it would cost already and most of it is not even in place yet.

Re:Would like to see this happen more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915717)

Here come the political shills to parrot lines from their team. Coming from "ganjadude" no less...

Re:Would like to see this happen more (-1, Flamebait)

ganjadude (952775) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915993)

what "team" I feel the same way about many of the programs put in place by the republicans. How much money does the military spend and waste every year? plenty. At least I have the balls to put things down with my name unlike you coward

Re:Would like to see this happen more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916285)

At least I have the balls to put things down with my name unlike you coward

Go take another hit off the bong ganjadude. Ron Paul 2016!

obamacare is not contractor and it fixes a lot of (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915879)

obamacare is not contractor and it fixes a lot of stuff.

Also the obamacare exchanges are like new stores with more choice then in the past.

Re:obamacare is not contractor and it fixes a lot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916093)

Fixes what at what price?

Optional exchanges that won't happen in most states that still keep insurance companies operating their per state monopolies, yeah that's great dude!

Re:obamacare is not contractor and it fixes a lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42917129)

What's the price of things remaining unfixed?

But no, the exchanges are not optional. A state running one itself is, if they don't, then the Federal government will provide one.

same thing in my state (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915617)

It's not perfect, but it works 90% of the time. It annoys me that cynics will often say private companies can do a better job and at a lower cost. Then when the govt. contracts the private sector out, then AGAIN it's the govt's fault for not being able to foresee embezzling.

How about criticizing the private sector for fucking things up?

Re:same thing in my state (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915929)

If the specs for what needs to be built are fucked up, it doesnt matter who tries to build it, a govt agency or a private contractor.

In this case, be glad it wasnt a govt agency doing the project, as then it would never be cancelled and all the rest of the money would be wasted as well. At least with a private contractor, the plug can be pulled and some of the money can be saved.

Re:Would like to see this happen more (1)

Reverand Dave (1959652) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915711)

That's what happens when the corporations that own the congress critters are also the ones bungling the huge projects.

Re:Would like to see this happen more (2)

steelfood (895457) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916049)

Yeah, but those same companies are hire the politicans on their way out the door, sit them behind a desk and let them collect paychecks indefinitely.

It's a revolving door. And the middle class, the majority of the taxpayers, are the ones getting spun in circles and flung away.

Nothing to see here... (1)

VinylRecords (1292374) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915389)

Nothing to see here. No political corruption or fraud. Just move along people.

"The decision is a setback for the Department of Motor Vehicles, which has a history of such stumbles."

Oh you mean they've done this before? Well let's wait a few more months and then throw another few hundred million dollars at them. And of course a few million to our political and social friends.

"The DMV project began in 2006, according to the California Technology Agency. Instead of using 40-year-old, "dangerously antiquated technology," DMV staffers were supposed to get a modern, user-friendly system that minimized the risk of "catastrophic failure," according to a DMV report on the project."

Dangerous? Catastrophic failure? Were they running an old nuclear reactor at the DMV? Is this the automotive equivalent of the China Syndrome?

I just laugh at California's spending at this point. I'm glad I moved out of San Francisco as the taxes and living costs were insane. Glad to see that taxpayer waste hasn't changed much.

Re:Nothing to see here... (4, Insightful)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915915)

>"The DMV project began in 2006, according to the California Technology Agency. Instead of using 40-year-old, "dangerously antiquated technology," DMV staffers were supposed to get a modern, user-friendly system that minimized the risk of "catastrophic failure," according to a DMV report on the project."

This encapsulates solving multiple problems at the same time. This cannot be done. You update large systems by plotting a path through incremental improvements that get deployed, tested and fixed before the next increment, so that get you to where you need to be. It might not seem like the optimal path, but anything involving a switch over of technology, UI, back end, infastructure and buckets of code all at the same time is simply never going to work.

In the case of the DMV, it might involve unifying disjoint databases pair by pair until you have only one, while maintaining the same interface to the heterogeneous clients. Then one by one converting the heterogeneous clients to a standard back end interface. Then one by one adding the features of a client to the grand unified client and switching over that system, until the GUC has all the features for all the clients are new client. Then one by one, updating the organizational procedures to make them better, and updating the GUC while doing so. You can make these changes one by one. You can roll back one step if it doesn't work right the first time. You can measure progress by the number of working updates, not in how much less non-working the global-replace-systems is today.

Re:Nothing to see here... (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916115)

Exactly! Incremental improvement is where it's at. If your most pressing issue is antique hardware, then you only do what's necessary to get the system ported to current hardware. Run the mainframe code in an emulator if you must, but for the life of you don't redo it all from scratch while the customer is one breakdown away from a catastrophe. Once the first most pressing issue is addressed, you move on to the next one. And so on.

Yeehaw - dumpster BO-NAN-ZA! (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915435)

A lot of DMV workers just got new tech for their homes!

Re:Yeehaw - dumpster BO-NAN-ZA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915593)

I am sure most of the money wasnt tech - it was services. The NEW product YOU WANT!

Re:Yeehaw - dumpster BO-NAN-ZA! (1)

afidel (530433) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915901)

Since the project has been going on since 2006 the hardware is probably EOL (unless they did a tech refresh).

Lowest Bidder? (1)

BetaDays (2355424) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915531)

Was this stuff from the lowest bidder?

Um, math? (3, Insightful)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915603)

I was going to use my mod points to mod up the first person who questioned the new math behind how a $208 million dollar project cancelled halfway through already cost $254 million dollars.

Alas, nobody had yet... and it's just about beer-o-clock here.

Re:Um, math? (2)

duranaki (776224) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915975)

I think there are two sets of numbers here. The spent $135M out of $208M for DMV upgrades before canceling. In another example, they spent $254M out of a $371M for payroll system upgrade before canceling it. Still, I'm not sure I would find it surprising to learn the government had spent more than the total after only completing half the work. :)

Um, reading? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916181)

I was going to use my mod points to mod up the first person who questioned the new math behind how a $208 million dollar project cancelled halfway through already cost $254 million dollars.

It didn't. $135 million dollars had been spent on it -- the $208 million number is in a different sentence, about a different $371 million project by a different state agency where the contractor was fired. Also note that "halfway through" doesn't mean that only half the allocated costs were consumed; indeed, costs outpacing progress very frequently one of the signals that lead to a project being cancelled.

Somethings wrong with this (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42915611)

"The contract was awarded in 2007 to the Texas-based Electronic Data Systems. The company was later bought by Hewlett-Packard and renamed HP Enterprise Services. Hewlett-Packard is now run by Meg Whitman, who during her failed campaign for governor in 2010 promised to save California money with better computer technology."

I smell something going on here. I'm thinking this may have been a bit too convenient.

contractors and sub contractors and lot's of overh (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915657)

contractors and sub contractors and lot's of overhead and have lot's of layers from the guys on the ground to the guys on the back end.

Also some people temp worker drag stuff out so they keep getting a pay check.

Cobol (1)

quarkie68 (1018634) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915677)

Yes, once more, all those COBOL programmers there must have an income. Who are you Mr. State to decide that you can just upgrade everything.

Cost more in the long run... (1)

WarJolt (990309) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915745)

This is California's way of creating jobs. There will be IT disaster, so California will have to hire IT staff to fix it. Not very economic, but at least we can create some useless jobs.

Irony (4, Informative)

rgbscan (321794) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915757)

This is by far the best line of the article....

"Hewlett-Packard is now run by Meg Whitman, who during her failed campaign for governor in 2010 promised to save California money with better computer technology."

Re:Irony (1)

Bigby (659157) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916869)

That is pretty hilarious. I don't understand why a company can't do the architecture themselves and then outsource the components. The money saved would actually allow you outsource each components 3 times. Then use the 1 of the 3 that works best.

Why $208 million? (3, Insightful)

maroberts (15852) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915763)

Okay, the system presumably has to handle about 30 million drivers and vehicle statistics, as well as other information such as traffic citations. I assume it's only accessed through a few hundred offices plus allow access to authorised systems (police etc) at any one time. Obviously it's got to be reasonably secure and perhaps operate at more than one site to cater for disaster recovery and redundancy. This is not beyond the capabilities of a few large servers to handle (I presume that cloud storage may be out due to security issues). Such a system could supply the information to Windows/Unix or even phone app clients. I assume driving licenses and vehicle ownership records have to be printed and sent from an office somewhere.

What else is in the scope of the project? Why does it cost several hundred million bucks to develop a new system? I can understand perhaps 10 million to develop and install. The biggest problem I can see is porting the data from the "40 year old antiquated system" to the new one. Someone must be able to explain where the extra £198 million has to go, apart from the contractors pockets.

Paper. Lots of Paper. (5, Informative)

Rande (255599) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916027)

Having worked on govt projects before, it's all spent on :
a) Management. Lots of it. About 5 times as many managers/sub-contract managers/advisors etc than there will be coders. Because the more management a project has, the harder it is to blame any one person.
b) Paper. Lots of paper. The amount of pages generated on specifications, revisions, reports, recommendations will be able 10 times the number of _lines_ of code created. All to show that no taxpayers money was wasted.
c) Tendering. It costs a lot to tender a bid, which reduces the competition to only the big ones who can afford to throw a million at a 1in5 chance. Whereas, if they were allowed to go to a small consultancy who only has 30 employees, they'd be able to get a much better price.
d) Changes. The requirements are often so written in very complex language that noone really understands it, and then they come along with changes every 2 months which require 3 months of recoding because they didn't fully understand what they were asking for to start with.
e) User acceptance. Don't underestimate the ability of a low level govt employee to refuse to use the new system because 'I've done it this way for 30 years and it worked just fine! This doesn't work like the old one did.'

Re:Paper. Lots of Paper. (1)

superflippy (442879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916899)

d) Changes. The requirements are often so written in very complex language that noone really understands it, and then they come along with changes every 2 months which require 3 months of recoding because they didn't fully understand what they were asking for to start with.

With federal government projects, and I assume with state projects as well, there are all kinds of specific guidelines and rules that have to be followed. If these aren't stated explicitly in the proposal, they cause cost overruns. For example: Only union employees are allowed to move servers, equipment must be sourced from certain suppliers, certain technologies such as bluetooth aren't allowed in some government locations... The unwritten requirements can go on and on.

Re:Why $208 million? (3, Informative)

Dynedain (141758) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916129)

The biggest problem I can see is porting the data from the "40 year old antiquated system" to the new one.

It all goes here.... not only do you have 40 years of data to port, but you also have 40 years of policies and procedures stemming from the old system that have to be enshrined in the new one. You also have to do the port in a way that has 0 downtime as you switch. And, since you can't magically switch hundreds of locations overnight, you have to make sure that the data, policies, and procedures stay in sync between the two systems during the migration period, because every location needs identical information from both systems.

Combine this with mandates such as "The specs for the new system are to exactly match all the quirks and behaviors of the old system" and you have a recipe for disasters like this.

Re:Why $208 million? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42917099)

You also have to do the port in a way that has 0 downtime as you switch.

Or, this being the government, they can just say "Sorry, we're migrating systems and can't process your request right now. Call back in about a month when we're done."

Re:Why $208 million? (1)

LDAPMAN (930041) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916393)

"A few hundred offices"? Think again. California is truly huge. If you assume one office per municipality there would still be thousands. The actual number is likely 10's of thousands.

Re:Why $208 million? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916721)

Think of the new bandwidth and cpu power needed in the past and whats projected.
30 million drivers would get a name, DOB look up at a state, city, federal level and get added to over time.
Now every federal agency, state, city LEO and connected private detective is going to be making more and more facial recognition requests.
From background requests, bloated cyber budgets needing to show growth, protester watching to random Web 2.0 picture face finds.
Facial recognition math is not that CPU intensive - but there are a lot of new agencies, contractors with the clearance to make the requests.
CA seems to have wanted to clear a clean legal pathway to the data at a local level.

Re:Why $208 million? (1)

whoever57 (658626) | about a year and a half ago | (#42917011)

I just paid my car's annual tax through the DMV website. I'm struggling to reconcile this with the description of the "40 year old antiquated" IT system.

Not surprising, at all (2)

boethius (14423) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915773)

California of course is a behemoth of State agencies spread everywhere, not to mention hundreds more various County and Municipal agencies and departments. Just within the scope of the State of California there are massive agencies like the DMV, Health and Human Services (i.e., Welfare), State Parks, Department of Insurance, Franchise Tax Board, and dozens of regulatory agencies and sub-agencies, and the Legislature itself. Across these numerous agencies and departments there are hundreds of thousands of employees and a huge and frequently antiquated technological infrastructure. Most agencies are running independent IT silos and there's very little, if any, connectivity and coordination between these usually very large IT groups. In spite of all this for years the State's CIO was only in his position part-time (huh?) and, while he has since been replaced with a full-time CIO (probably a few times over, by now), none have been successful overhauling the State's horrific IT issues. The State's payroll system is among the most notorious in the nation and believed to be at least 30 years old and running on rock-solid but extremely EXTREMELY antiquated hardware. This is why certain mainframe programmers and administrators will NEVER lose their jobs - lifetime, guaranteed employment maintaining an archaic piece of hardware. It's so bad that when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened an across-the-board 20% pay cut to State workers to balance the budget (don't laugh; the State HAS to have a balanced budget but you know what it does? Never passes a budget or passes it 6-12 months after it was supposed to). State Controller John Chiang fired back, proclaiming the State's payroll system "couldn't handle" an across-the-board wage adjustment. Can you imagine? Over the last 10-15 years you're easily looking at billions thrown at overhauling California's ancient IT infrastructure, with likely tens if not hundreds of thousands of unique, probably very hard to support applications "vital" to its hundreds of State departments and agencies. The progress it has made with these billions? Save the overhaul of the HHS system - a huge, mega-hundred-million expense that was also fraught with major major problems - the State is showing no signs it is making serious progress to refine its systems and infrastructure.

Government + Consultants = Failure (4, Insightful)

Tridus (79566) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915779)

This is entirely normal when you take a government that chronically under-staffs on IT and relies on consultants. They go and try to do something big, and they don't have the expertise in house to deal with it. Enter more consultants, particularly of the variety that like to write a lot of powerpoint presentations and bill a lot of hours but never actually deliver a bloody thing. Of course, since the government doesn't have enough IT expertise to actually figure that out, the high level senior managers that love powerpoint and high-level mumbo jumbo MBA talk think everything is going well.

And then, scope creep happens. It follows one of three lines:
1. Election happens. New government comes in, with new priorities and a new way they want to do things. This is obviously bad for a huge project in progress.
2. The existing project has a new department join in, which means new managers and thus a new set of demands. Instead of starting up a new project, they try to shoehorn those into the current project to satisfy management's desire for design by a giant committee of managers.
3. Someone realizes that the project didn't actually have all the requirements properly captured in the first place, which is pretty much inevitable in my experience.

You'd think at some point the government would learn that they can't manage projects in this way and rely on consultants to sort it out, but they never do. Of course, in the case of #1 or #2 even in house IT doesn't really save you, but in my experience they tend to be more flexible than a giant Enterprise consulting outfit (mostly because there's no contract they can hide behind to deliver X, even if X doesn't actually solve the problem that prompted the project in the first place).

The whole process is a giant mess.

Re:Government + Consultants = Failure (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916167)

Really? Why should a company with a head count of 100 in IT then go out and double or triple staff to get an initiative complete? What happens after your done? Do you keep that extra staff on? and when you say Government + Consultants = Failure, there's lots and lots of projects delivered to governments everywhere, on time and on budget. It's only when you hear about these problems that people jump to conclusions. The Government relies on Contractors to get new things done because most of the IT staff in Government are too obsessed with their benefits and pensions to be bothered with doing something new. Government positions are almost always set up so you never have to change, you can do the same stupid job for decades and when you're done, you'll get a nice pension. Companies aren't going to start staffing more workers just for one project, especially one that only lasts a couple of years. So, please don't assume failure is the only outcome because I've been involved in quite a few successful projects over the years working with government agencies to deliver new functionality much to the chagrin of the incumbent staff.

Re:Government + Consultants = Failure (2)

Yakasha (42321) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916433)

This is entirely normal when you take a government that chronically under-staffs on IT and relies on consultants. They go and try to do something big, and they don't have the expertise in house to deal with it.

Really close here. Every successful project I've been on that utilized a high % of contractors had insanely awesome people in house running the show. But Sacramento's top IT positions cap out under $100k... with no stock options.

Not gonna happen.

Know when to hold and when to fold (1)

pele_smk (839310) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915903)

At least California knows when to let go of a deal gone south and fire someone.

Time for the Government to Take IT In-House? (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916063)

Seems the Government Pork-Barrel is sewn-up by the Multi-Nationals who are only interested in milking mega-buck projects for all they are worth rather than delivering a working product anywhere near their promised completion date and cost estimates. And the problem doesn't stop there, even if the project is completed, typically the Contractor continues to milk it via Support Contracts and added Consulting Fees. These Support Contracts can eat away substantially at the State Budget in the event of unforeseen issues or changing requirements resulting in upgrades.

As it stand, the current situation is not in the interests of the Government or the Tax Payer. It stands to reason that the Government could save substantial amounts of money on projects by building it's own IT Agency which could operate like CalTrans does by building and maintaining the needed infrastructure and hiring contractors where needed to perform task specific work and in a much more controlled capacity. Additionally, the smaller scope of work would open the door for smaller companies to come in and compete for these contracts since the man-power and support requirements of these limited-scope sub-projects would be far lower. Think Caltrans hiring a local Paving Contractor to come in and help repair a stretch of roadway in a pinch -- no need to bring in a big player, just someone who can bid low and deliver on time.

Of course, bringing something new in-house and running it brings in it's own set of challenges, but even a halfway decently run shop should be able to operate and deliver projects at a far lower cost than what they are paying now. I'm sure if they add up all the costs of IT Contracts for the next year, they'll see they are spending in excess of the entire operating budget of their Big-Name IT Contractor.

Well having been there... (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916237)

For several large IT project at the State agency level, I can safely say that the bidding process for an RFP is to the lowest bidder, not the best bidder. Also they make it easier for certain companies to be on the bidding process ie. cronyism. So really the state ends up with what it asks for. Most large IT project fail because of these reasons.

Could it be the government agency's fault? (4, Insightful)

cyberidian (1917584) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916329)

Could it be that the way the government contracts are structured and micromanaged by government agencies is the problem and not the contractor or their programmers? I work for a company that provides government services under contract to the State of California and the government agency that oversees us micromanages us so much that it is often impossible to to develop systems properly. The 4 biggest problems I see are 1)constantly changing requirements that are written by government employees with little or no IT/web knowledge 2) contracts secured by being the lowest bidder which do not allow us to have the resources to properly design or test the system we are building 3) forcing us to work with other contractors including non-profit ones that are "donating" their services (very strange to me really) and that provide inferior IT systems we must use or integrate. 4) Requirements, features and design being dictated by government agencies or advocacy groups with little knoweldge of system design & development. For example, we are currently forced to support an application written by one of these "non-profits" that uses ASP classic and violates every current IT standard. My company has the IT staff & talent to completely rewrite the application but we are not allowed to and must instead support and integrate the badly written one that was donated to the state. It is unclear why this non-profit is allowed to force the agency & us to use their product, but it seems they have political connections that make it so. I believe also that government contracts almost always go to the lowest bidder and not the company with the most expertise. Often a contractor is the lowest bidder because they plan to cut corners and not follow good IT practices, or have not estimated costs correctly. Also as a web developer for a company that works under government contracts, I cannot count the number of times we have received requirements for a website from people that have little or no computer skills, let alone web skills or experience. You would think in this day and age that the government employees providing requirements for government IT systems would have at least basic IT knowledge, but this is often not the case. I am not exaggerating that I have received requirements from people that have no Excel, Word or even email skills and have obviously barely even used the Internet. Many people in the top levels of government management are older (baby boomers) or were promoted for reasons other than great IT skills. They often have no professional experience with developing IT Systems, ADA or other required standards and yet they are the one writing the criteria for the contracts and the system requirements. State agencies also often demand that large amounts of money be spent on "usability studies" or other commitees where a lot of people discuss and dictate what the IT contractor should do in building the new system. The people running these studies often have very poor IT skills themselves and have little experience designing IT systems, but they often have an enormous say in how the system is designed. By the time the IT contractor's development staff is involved in the project, everything is already specified by non-IT government people and between that and the contractor management trying to save every dime (therefore not providing resource for testing), it is not really possible to build a quality system. I say all of this inspite of the fact that the State of California actually has a good Department of Technology Services that provides great ADA compliant web templates. The California State government is so large that even with a good DTS department, the management and staff at specific agencies providing the requirements for a new system may have no knoweldge or interaction with that department and never involve them in creating the contract or project requirements. I think the solution to this is the state should be involving its DTS department in creating all contracts and requirements for new systems projects and individual staff without IT experience should not be allowed to do this. They need a Project Manager in Chief to make sure designs & requirements are valid technically. I would also recommend doing all projects in smaller chunks - 10 $100,000 projects, not 1 $1,000,000 project, and awarding projects based on expertise and track record not the lowest cost.

Virginia DMZ (1)

El_Oscuro (1022477) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916929)

Perhaps California should consult with Virginia [washingtonpost.com] about how to contract and run a DMV system.
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