State auditors: $24 million criminal justice information system project problematic
State auditors and Attorney General George C. Jepsen, responding to a whistleblower report, have identified personnel, budget and communication problems with the implementation of a $24 million system meant to allow state and local agencies involved in law enforcement to share information electronically.
Lawmakers authorized the project in 2008 after it was revealed that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles had pardoned the two men involved in the Cheshire home invasion murders without accessing all of the information available from other state agencies, including a judge's description of defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky as a "cold, calculating predator."
The state contracted with Affiliated Computer Services, a Xerox company, in September 2011 to implement a system that will enable an estimated 23,000 authorized users to share information collected by the state's 11 criminal justice agencies.
A consultant providing oversight of the project reported on July 17 that the Criminal Information Sharing System is "at a high risk for failure" and is not likely to be completed in November 2014, as projected in a July 1 report to the Connecticut General Assembly by the project's governing board.
"That's a big disconnect there," John C. Geragosian, auditor of public accounts, said Tuesday. "Generally, the project appears to be reeling a bit, and there's several issues that require attention now or in the near future to get it back on track."
In a Nov. 20 letter to the governing board of the Criminal Justice Information System signed by Geragosian, auditor Robert M. Ward and Jepsen, the auditors indicated they had reviewed project documents, interviewed contractors and other project stakeholders and attended board meetings after a whistleblower complained in January that the project was being mismanaged.
The investigation identifies "significant deficiencies in the timeliness, clarity and accuracies of information provided to the governing board," possible cost overruns, management problems and lack of expertise. Status reports to the board have been incomplete, untimely and obscured by technical jargon, according to the letter.
Additionally, the letter says, it is not clear that the executive director of the project, Sean Thakkar, and the CJIS Support Group "possess a sufficient understanding of the system's technical design and intended workflow." For example, the letter states, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether "FBI information" should be included in CISS, but there is a lack of unified understanding of what constitutes FBI information.
Geragosian said that $15 million has been spent to date on the project and that he could not estimate how much the project would ultimately cost, saying there are "too many intangibles," and that Xerox refused to provide the auditors an estimate without specific parameters.
"The board has all the same exact concerns, and we've had them since June," said Mike Lawlor, undersecretary of the Office of Policy and Management. He co-chairs the board with Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, deputy chief court administrator for the Judicial Branch. Board members include key staffers from the Department of Correction, Chief State's Attorney's office, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Office of the Chief Public Defender, Department of Administrative Services, Board of Pardons and Paroles, Office of the Victim Advocate, Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and Department of Motor Vehicles.
Lawlor said there is a new project manager for CISS, and there may be more personnel changes. He said key stakeholders are now meeting every two weeks and about 10 serious, complicated and specific problems are being addressed. He said the blending of information systems from several agencies has resulted in turf issues, questions of confidentiality and technology problems.
"We're plowing through it all and making whatever changes are necessary," Lawlor said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy strongly supports the CISS, which Lawlor described as an ambitious project that will be one-of-a-kind in the United States once it is completed.
"The goal is to take every conceivable data source that's eligible to criminal justice systems and have them accessible through a one-stop shopping, kind of like a Google search," he said.
With the new system, he said, a police officer investigating a string of burglaries could search for similar cases statewide by entering a few search terms. A prosecutor trying to solve a specific case could access all suspect information held by probation officers and other agencies.
"All of this grows out of the Cheshire murders, where at the end of the day it was clear that the people who made decisions didn't have all the information that was available," Lawlor said.
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