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California's $1.4bn IT boondoggle

More dollars than sense

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California, with its booming computer industry and an economy that ranks among the world's top 10, has wasted almost $1.4bn over the past decade because it can't build a statewide network to administer child support payments.

Besides the tremendous drain on tax dollars, the inability to implement the federally mandated system has prevented untold numbers of low-income children from getting financial support from absentee parents. With 48 states having succeeded in meeting the federal requirement to build a single automated child support system, California shares this dubious distinction with South Carolina, according to an exhaustively researched article on SignOnSanDiego.com.

The tab includes penalties of $1.2bn for failing to meet federal guidelines that first set a deadline of 1995 for bringing the system online. California also shelled out $111m on a troubled computer system contracted to Lockheed Martin that the state ultimately walked away from. After a protracted court battle in which each party sued the other, the state was ordered to pay Lockheed $46m.

California's debacle with the child support system isn't the only failed attempt at building a state government computer system. A $50m system for the Department of Motor Vehicles had to be scrapped after administrators deemed it unworkable. And in 2002, a $95m no-bid contract with Oracle was canceled after critics contended it would require the state to pay for software it didn't need.

(El Reg is always hungry for tips from whistleblowers with knowledge of burocratic incompetence or waste. Please contact your reporter at the link above. Anonymity is assured.)

At the moment California has 117 IT projects under way with a projected price tag of about $5bn. ®

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