SEIU Court Employees Shocked by Runaway Computer Costs


The Administrative Office of the Court’s statewide computer system will cost $1.75 billion, 35 percent more than the agency said it would cost in a recent memorandum, theDaily Journal newspaper has found.

SEIU 721 members have repeatedly asked the AOC to open its books and reveal the true cost of the computer system. Court reporter Arnella Sims, a member of the SEIU 721 executive board, compared the $1.75 billion program to “recreating Microsoft.”

“It’s beyond my comprehension how we can have such a costly software system with what appear to be runaway costs that no one is scrutinizing,” she told the Daily Journal.

Cost overruns, missed deadlines and runaway private contracts have plagued the system, which is expected to cost 5 times higher than 2006 projections, and be completed 3 years late.

The article shows that the AOC ignored earlier warnings about the cost and lack of oversight. A February 2004 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office warned that “the state’s financial exposure is potentially significant.” The AOC did not provide legislators with

“How much the program will ultimately cost is still unclear,” the Daily Journal states.

Read the full article below:

Cost of Court Case Management System Grows By a Third
Budget for Statewide Court Case Management System Keeps Growing

Amy Yarbrough
Daily Journal 
Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO – The Administrative Office of the Court’s statewide computer system is expected to cost $1.75 billion to develop and implement, 35 percent more than the agency said it would cost in a recent memorandum to state judges, the Daily Journal has found.

“Total investment… including development, licensing, data integration, and deployment for all case types through 58 courts, is estimated at $1.3 billion over the life of the project,” states a memo posted in August on an internal court Web site.

But according to an AOC report to state lawmakers, the agency spent $324.8 million on the California Case Management System from Fiscal 2002-03 to Fiscal 2007-08. A spreadsheet the agency provided to the state Department of Finance in January projected more than $1.4 billion in additional expenses for CCMS through completion, for a total of $1.75 billion.

The sum is nearly five times more than what the agency expected the project to cost in 2006, and the system will be completed no sooner than 2013, three years later than expected. Philip Carrizosa, an AOC spokesman, confirmed the $1.4 billion in projected expenses.

He took issue, though, with adding that figure to the sum already spent to come up with a total figure for the project, saying those earlier expenses were for “interim” products that are not part of the ultimate computer system.

“It would be misleading to call it all CCMS,” Carrizosa said.

The agency’s own documents dating back to 2006, however, address those products, called V2 and V3, as part of CCMS and imply they are key to the system.

Carrizosa also said the agency has recently found ways to save money on the project so it may come in at less than what was projected in January.

Arnella Sims, a court reporter and a member of SEIU Local 721 in Los Angeles, called the $1.75 billion estimate, “quite extraordinary,” and likened it to “recreating Microsoft.”

“It’s beyond my comprehension how we can have such a costly software system with what appear to be runaway costs that no one is scrutinizing,” Sims said.

Lt. Wayne Bilowit, a lobbyist for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office who has voiced loud concerns about the AOC shutting down courts while continuing to spend on big projects, said he found the figure “shocking.”

He said his agency is overhauling its own computer system – which includes case information, statistics and warrants – for $37 million, about 2 percent of what the AOC is spending.

“I don’t have any idea what they are doing here,” Bilowit said.

CCMS is much larger in scope. It is intended to replace more than 70 different case management systems used in the state’s trial courts, many of which the agency says are outdated or failing.

The memo on the judges’ Web site touts its importance, stating that “CCMS will improve public safety, make courts more efficient, and enhance public access.”

Calling it “a computer system,” the memo states, “is like saying that the Internet is another way to send mail.”

The project was one of the first the AOC took on after the Trial Court Funding Act of 1997 removed management of the state’s former superior and municipal courts from counties and brought it under the AOC’s control.

By 1998, the agency had already awarded $671,000 to 10 counties “to begin defining system requirements or to procure a new [computer] system,” according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The agency wanted the Legislature to approve an additional $305,000 that year to hire two staffers to begin initial development “of a state-sponsored automated trial court case management system” to be tried in 10 counties. Neither of those figures are included in later reports on the project’s costs.

In 2001, the project officially launched with $21 million in seed money approved by the Legislature from judicial branch special funds – the Trial Court Improvement Fund and the Modernization Fund.

The agency said it is unable to provide budgets or a timeline for the project from 2001.

It also said that, even if it had them, they would not be accurate because the project has evolved from those early stages to something much more ambitious.

When it’s completed, AOC officials said, the new case management system will allow courts all over the state to share cases and other information and allow law enforcement agencies to easily access court orders and connect with the Department of Justice’s domestic violence and protective order registry.

The new system will cover every kind of case – from traffic to probate and everything in-between.

Ron Overholt, chief deputy director of the AOC, said the agency did not envision such an all-encompassing project until relatively recently, despite the earlier discussions in state records.

He said that initially the project involved only four neighboring superior courts – in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties – that wanted to develop a common system.

Overholt said it wasn’t until 2002 that the Judicial Council asked the AOC to develop an infrastructure for all the courts in the state.

“That sort of began the evaluation of this,” he said. “I’m not sure any of us envisioned a statewide system for all case types and all courts.”

Indeed, there appear to have been changes to the project along the way.

Between 2007 and 2008, it appears the AOC decided to add court reporter and court interpreter scheduling to the system, as well as other functions that will allow CCMS to communicate with law enforcement systems, according to reports the agency provided to the Legislature.

But even very early on, some regarded CCMS as a maverick project with inadequate oversight.

In a February 2004 report, the Legislative Analyst’s Office warned there was too little scrutiny and controls on CCMS – and a companion project to create a statewide accounting system – and that “the state’s financial exposure is potentially significant.”

The executive branch is required to submit risk mitigations and oversight plans before undertaking technology projects, the LAO noted. But there is no such requirement on the courts.

Instead of being subject to legislative scrutiny, internally appointed steering committees that “do not have adequate information to do their job effectively” were overseeing the massive technology upgrades, the report said.

It notes the AOC had provided no information as to the projected cost at each major phase of the project.

“Without such information, we do not believe that AOC’s steering committees will be able to effectively monitor the projects. This places the courts at greater risk for cost overruns, and delays for lack of adequate funding to complete the projects,” the report read.

At the time, the AOC had spent $32.4 million on CCMS and the LAO said it “could cost up to several tens of millions more” before its then-expected completion in 2009.

Since then, the budget has been revised and the completion date pushed out many times.
In the Spring of 2006, the agency was projecting a time frame for completion of 2009-10, according to an AOC document. But in a report to the Legislature less than a year later, in December 2006, the agency moved that date to 2011-12. In 2008, the agency again pushed out the completion date to 2013.

The increases in cost projections for the project have been even more striking.

In its 2006 “funding model” the AOC estimated the overall costs of the project to be $357 million with a completion date in 2009-10, a fraction of today’s estimate.

Development, consulting and hardware and software costs have ballooned more than other categories of expenses, and appear to continue on an upward climb.

In December 2006, the AOC had forecast spending about $2 million for “additional development” for fiscal years 2006-07 and 2007-08. But two years later, the agency reported to the Legislature having instead spent an astonishing $87 million in “additional development” during that time and projecting another $28 million in that category of expenses by June 2010.

The agency also spent $8 million more than projected in consulting and $24 million more than projected for hardware and software in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Last year, it budgeted an additional $34 million in consulting and $38 million in hardware that it expected to spend by next June.

Officials said at least some of the additional sums were for an expanded contract with systems developer Deloitte Consulting to add, among other things, functions that will allow CCMS to communicate with law enforcement systems.

Driven in part by continued expansions, annual spending on the project has grown exponentially year on year, from about $20 million spent in Fiscal 2004-2005, to $123 million spent in 2006-2007, to a projected $435 million in 2011-2012.

How much the program will ultimately cost is still unclear. Budget constraints have required the agency to use $105 million originally intended for the project to instead fill other holes in the courts’ budget.

Because of the state’s fiscal crisis, the AOC now says CCMS’s completion date is up in the air, despite its vendor contract. It also says the source of funds to deploy the project are now unclear, making the final cost just as hazy.

In its August memo, the agency said a delay of even one year could cause overruns of as much as $240 million.

0 responses to “SEIU Court Employees Shocked by Runaway Computer Costs

  1. once again, seiu members acting as though they’re experts on everything. since when is a court reporter qualified to make a determination on the technical development efforts of a complex legal case management system conversion and implementation? Excuse me, recreating Microsoft? Most court reporters I know and work with tell me they are nowhere near qualified to make such a determination, which is why they partner with legal technology consultants on such projects. Yet SEIU – a union that is NOT a software developer or technology or computer engineering union – can somehow justify making their own determination on what it should cost and how long it should take. OK.

  2. As court employees we have the responsibility to question how money is being spent, especially when court services are being cut. You don’t need a degree in computer science to ask about the wisdom of spending nearly $2 billion in this economy. The AOC needs to open its books and have an open debate about its priorities–#1 should be serving the public.