Last week, I blogged about the continuing IT woes in California. Well, the LA Times had another California IT story this week that reports some 117,000 Californians have been without their unemployment checks because the state's computers haven't finished being programmed to handle the extensions in unemployment insurance authorized by the federal government on the 6th of November.
The LA Times says that, "State Employment Development Department officials say they are doing everything they can to issue the checks, even postponing some staff furloughs to deal with the demand for services. But they say the state's 30-year-old computer system isn't programmed to recognize the extensions, requiring technicians to write new code."
California is hoping to start issuing the checks next week, although this may be optimistic.
California's Employment Development Department admits that it is rushing to reprogram its computers which usually means an unexpected problem is likely to crop up.
"We're trying to fully upgrade the system as it's moving at a record pace, while being very careful to not risk shutting down the rest of the system," an Employment Development Department spokesperson was quoted as saying in the Times' article.
I have noted previously over this year (e.g., here, here and here) some of the on-going problems other states have been having with their unemployment insurance systems. There is an excellent updated overview of these problems across the US here at CivSource.
The USDA sent a letter out to state governments on the 20th of November which stated, "These projects encountered severe problems in meeting critical performance standards and many eligible (food stamp) applicants have suffered as a result... We do not support furtherance of such projects, and believe that they put public funds and our clientele at risk."
This places the states in a very uncomfortable quandary. Their IT systems are aging and fragile, and pose major operational risk. But the states are also being told by the Federal government that outsourcing their IT operations isn't recommended either because that poses unacceptable risk as well.
Not a good situation at all.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.