The state continues to fumble with technology, to the detriment of Californians

By Senator Ling Ling Chang
Friday, August 21, 2020

Also published at Orange County Register.


Our state government agencies must deal with an enormous number of requests and extremely complex challenges. Technology has long been California’s answer to handling both.

For years, however, our state government has fumbled this task. We are the cradle of world-changing technology, but our government has relied on worthless technology and paid billions of dollars repeatedly for failed fixes. It’s proof that something is wrong with our state government—something that must change now.

In the past two years, we have suffered through massive failures by state agencies that directly affect the lives of most Californians. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Employment Development Division (EDD), and the many agencies the Administration has tasked with COVID-19 response have put millions of Californians at risk because of chaotic and ineffective leadership.

For example, DMV has been a problem for at least 20 years. Endless news reports document its inability to provide even basic services without leaving millions of Californians standing in line for much of a day. Those who have paid online or by mail early to renew their licenses, which DMV claims will speed the process, haven’t received their replacement licenses for months, effectively rewarding drivers only if they act with the same sloth-like pace of DMV.

But, DMV’s fiascos are not simply inconvenient, they also pose significant threats. DMV has been unable to provide driver’s licenses that meet federal regulations despite receiving millions in special funding for that purpose. This failure impacts businesses, higher education, and families who need to travel.

Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom created a 13-member strike force of state employees to fix these problems. The strike force’s solution: Adopt a “Get it right the first time” mission,  allow drivers to pay with credit cards or e-pay apps for the first time, and increase online services.

The Employment Development Division’s (EDD) failed technology has stopped unemployment benefits needed by one million or more Californians who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them have been waiting since March for unemployment checks they can use for to cover food, rent, utilities, and medical care, but EDD officials say the checks won’t come until September.  

EDD has known its IT system kicks out many people who’ve qualified for unemployment benefits. The agency has paid millions in no-bid contracts to fix those problems without success and had an identical processing problem in 2010.

The agency awarded the same failed contractor another contract for $5 million during the current crisis to fix this ongoing problem. Neither the governor nor EDD has forced the contractor to fulfill its promises. A “strike force” of other government employees is unlikely to achieve a different result. It simply extends the financial pain of those in need of unemployment benefits and forces taxpayers to pay millions more dollars for fixes that are never made.

That’s why I have called for an audit of the EDD. As the public learned just days ago, data identifying the number of Californians infected with the coronavirus is massively flawed, leaving everyone at a higher risk of exposure to COVID despite the six-month statewide shutdown of most normal activities.

This revelation brings into question how many people have actually died from the disease and if the economic disruption was inevitable. Bad data also may have prevented information about those infected from being used to develop successful treatment or prevention.

Leadership at any level means accountability. The governor must appoint senior staff to tackle these challenges and ensure the services they oversee are delivered. He also must work with the legislature to create, implement, and oversee effective state government.