Wednesday, February 9, 2011
State Auditor Criticizes AOC’s Handling of CCMS
Agency’s Planning ‘Inadequate,’ Project ‘At Risk of Failure,’ Report Says
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The California State Auditor report released yesterday criticized the Administrative Office of the Courts’ oversight of the development of its controversial statewide case management system.
State Auditor Elaine M. Howle said the work undertaken by the AOC since 2003 on developing the California Court Case Management system, known as CCMS, “has lacked sufficient planning and analysis.”
Specifically, she faulted the agency for not having analyzed whether the $1.9 billion project “would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts’ technology needs” before starting development and for “consistently fail[ing] to develop accurate cost estimates” for the project, “which is now at risk of failure due to the lack of funding.”
Howle noted the project was originally estimated to cost $260 million, but the AOC, over the course of seven years, amended its contracts with vendors 102 times, which increased the costs of those obligations almost ten-fold. She added that the structure of the AOC’s contracts has left the agency “dependent on the development vendor for knowledge and expertise” pertaining to the CCMS program.
Lack of Transparency
The report also criticized the AOC’s lack of transparency with regard to its decision-making process, including its reasons for expanding the scope of the CCMS project, and the agency’s failure to foster the trial courts’ receptiveness to implementing the new case management system.
Howle said it was “critically important for the AOC to resolve the concerns and negative perceptions held by several superior courts,” particularly the Los Angeles Superior Court, and advised the agency to retain an independent consultant to review the system and “determine the extent of any quality issues and problems” before deploying it later this year to the San Diego, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Superior Courts.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who requested the audit, yesterday issued a statement saying the report “essentially confirms my worst fears about this project.”
While she acknowledged the need to share information between the courts and related agencies, Lowenthal said “it looks like we’re throwing good money after bad on this project while cutting the budgets of local courts.”
There is “no question,” she said, that oversight of the project “has to change.”
William C. Vickrey, administrative director of the courts, said the Judicial Council was “largely in agreement” with Howle’s proposals.
The council, he said, has “in many instances already adopted practices and policies consistent with the recommendations made.” It has “increased Judicial Council oversight of the project; expanded the participation of justices, judges, court administrators, attorneys, and justice partners; and created a project management office,” he said.
He insisted most of the audit’s findings “refer to past practices in the oversight of the project,” noting the report covered a period of more than eight years, and that the council was “very close to completing an independent cost-benefit analysis.”
Vickrey added that the council “remain[s] committed” to the phased deployment of the CCMS system, scheduled to be completed during fiscal year 2015-16.
Court of Appeal Justice Terence L. Bruiniers of the First District, Div. Five, the chair of the Judicial Council’s CCMS Executive Committee also emphasized the audit report “does not recommend ending the project,” in a release from the Judicial Council.
In a “Dear Colleague” email addressed to the judiciary, a copy of which was obtained by the MetNews, Bruiniers—joined by Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Douglas P. Miller, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge James Hermann, and Ventura Superior Court Judge Glenn Reiser, who are the chairs of the Judicial Council’s newly-formed advisory committees—also notes the audit “does not contend that any branch funds have been misspent or wasted, and there is no assertion that the financial investment we have made is disproportionate to our objective.”
Bruiniers said in the email that the Judicial Council has, or is in the process of, implementing all of the recommendations from the audit, except for the suggestion for using use an outside consultant for final product compliance and acceptance.
“We are already engaged in rigorous acceptance testing to ensure that CCMS meets all defined user requirements, and we will not accept the final product until it does,” he said. “We see no reason to incur additional expense and delay for duplication of that effort.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, a director of the Alliance of California Judges, which has been a vocal opponent of the project, said he felt “100 percent vindicated” by the audit.
The report “left me breathless,” he said. “I was just stunned by the depth and breadth of the mismanagement of this project and the continued inability of the AOC and those in charge of the project to admit their errors,” Horan explained.
He called the AOC’s statement in response to the audit “breathtakingly arrogant,” and said it “simply reinforces the fact that they remain in denial.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company