State Auditor Says a Lot of Government Data Is Unreliable

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

California government does not do technology well. There is no end to stories about state government computer systems failing to perform properly for a host of reasons―because they are too old or too new, poorly designed, negligently maintained, not integrated with other systems, etc.   

But those stories are usually about computer systems that crash, or never get launched after years of expensive development. Sometimes, they hum along just fine, under the radar, spewing out loads of data that is not very reliable.

The California State Auditor surveyed the scene using her own reports from 2012 and 2013 and found that important data in 17 of the 53 systems checked was “not sufficiently reliable.” Another 13 had “undetermined reliability.”

The information in the computer systems is used to process payroll, manage programs, coordinate personnel transactions and generate myriad reports for a plethora of government departments. Problem systems were found in agencies dealing with all aspects of government, including water management, crime and employment.

The disappointment expressed by Auditor Elaine Howle about the two court systems her office reviewed was palpable:

“We expected that the AOC and superior courts would have well-developed plans, policies, and procedures related to information systems controls. However, we found that some of the AOC’s plans were either nonexistent, or in one case, the plan had not been updated since 1997.”

Among the unreliable computer systems in the report were:

OBITS—The Offender-Based Information Tracking System is the primary California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) database for keeping tabs on youths in the juvenile justice system.

OBIS—The Offender-Based Information System tracks adult offenders in California corrections institutions.

CIWQS—The California Integrated Water Quality System is used by the State Water Quality Control Board to track information about places of environmental interest, manage permits and other orders, track inspections, and manage violations and enforcement activities.”

ABMS—The Active Based Management System lets the Department of General Services (DGS) “consolidate and maintain its human resources and fiscal data in one system.”

BWF—The Base Wage File, maintained by California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), is used for a number of critical tasks. It is used to track individual employment and wages, as well as calculate unemployment insurance benefits.

OFS—The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and eight other judicial entities reviewed by the Auditor use the Oracle Financial System for procurement data. The AOC uses it to generate semi-annual reports to the Legislature and, uh, the Auditor.

ACHS—The Automated Criminal History System contains criminal history summary information, including fingerprints, for the California Department of Justice.         

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Auditor’s Report Highlights California’s Data Lapses (by Jon Ortiz, Sacramento Bee)

Data Reliability: State Agencies’ Computer-Generated Data Varied in Their Completeness and Accuracy (California State Auditor) (pdf)

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