It’s one thing for California’s citizens to complain about colossal waste and inefficiency in their state’s government. It’s another when the state’s second highest ranking official joins in the criticism and adds even more. Today, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom did just that.
In an appearance this morning at the Techmanity conference in San Jose, California, Newsom did not hold much back in leveling criticism at his state’s woeful track record in technology deployment. “We’re on the leading, cutting edge of 1973,” Newsom declared to laughter and applause from conference attendees.
The former mayor of San Francisco was just getting warmed up. He cited the state’s decision to terminate a technology improvement project for the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) at a cost of $131 million as one of many examples of his frustration over the state’s misguided approach. “We’ve all been conditioned by Amazon, yet we are still standing in line at the DMV,” said Newsom.
He also cited an even larger example of financial waste when the state approved a project in 2004 to connect a sprawling court system network across its 58 counties at a cost of $260 million. When state officials got to 2008 and realized nothing had been done, they re-bid the project and found that it had risen to $2 billion with a hazy due date of 2015. The project was killed and the county courts remain unconnected.
The Lieutenant Governor also expressed amazement at the state’s slow response as the rest of the world embraces cloud architecture. He told the crowd that he decided not to wait for the state government to approve a cloud-based system and approached Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, to provide his office with its own cloud network. “California is still debating a cloud-first policy for its technology,” said Newsom, shaking his head in dismay.
Newsom was upset at the state’s reluctance to embrace what he termed “the open data movement,” where vast databases of state-collected information are made available to the public. “The state of California is embarrassingly behind,” said Newsom.
He revealed that he has “a point of friction with the Governor (Jerry Brown)” on this particular issue. Governor Brown did sign a bill yesterday that made research data funded by the state’s health agency available to the public. “What else exists in the vaults of government?” Newsom asked.
The Lieutenant Governor’s harsh criticism of the state’s technology track record followed an equally blistering attack the day before at the Techmanity conference by a prominent venture capitalist. Tim Draper, founding partner of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is leading a movement to divide California into six states. A recent attempt to place his “Six Californias” initiative before voters in 2016 failed when not enough valid signatures were collected.
“We’re the worst place to do business in the entire country,” said Draper yesterday. “(The state) can charge whatever they want and provide this horrible service.”
He cited the state’s fall from first to near the bottom nationally in K-12 education and a huge, costly prison system as reasons for why a different approach is needed. “Any change is going to be better than what we’ve got,” Draper told the conference attendees.
Both Draper and Newsom pointed out that they were not “anti-government,” but rather wanted to see the innovative thinking that drives the technology industry become more widely adopted in the state capital. Newsom referred to this today as “moving from machine thinking to platform thinking.”
Yet, in the halls of the San Jose Convention Center and throughout Silicon Valley, there remains a strong skepticism that government can make this transition. At one point, even Newsom remarked, “Sure, vote, but what real change is there?”
Coming from the second highest ranking leader in California who is deeply inside the government system, this is a scary thought indeed.