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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Brown Blasts Wilson for DMV Computer ‘Debacle’

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TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Announcing the first of what she said will be weekly “Rip Van Wilson” awards, Democratic challenger Kathleen Brown said Thursday that Republican Gov. Pete Wilson took far too long to do anything about the DMV’s failed multimillion-dollar computer system.

“It is typical of the Rip Van Wilson style: You slumber until election year. You wake up and you do something about it,” Brown said, contending that she would address such management problems more quickly. “California needs a governor who’s going to be on the job from Day One.”

Brown said it took Wilson three years and millions of dollars in costs before his Administration dealt with the $44-million computer “debacle” at the Department of Motor Vehicles. She said the problem is only “the tip of the iceberg.”

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Standing in front of the Hollywood DMV office, and an array of more than 50 old computer monitors and other equipment, Brown noted that the office of the legislative analyst has indicated that the state has problems with 11 computer systems worth $1.3 billion.

The analyst’s office said the systems either had failed or were in serious trouble because of a lack of an effective system for managing and overseeing the information processing programs.

In response, Wilson reelection campaign spokesman Dan Schnur said the DMV problem was minor compared to a 1991 incident in the state treasurer’s office in which $2.8 billion in state funds were improperly credited to a state account.

“She’s taken a couple of wrong turns herself trying to find the information superhighway on-ramp. . . . Her own treasurer’s office somehow managed to misplace almost $3 billion until the state auditor general found it for her,” Schnur said.

“You could stack DMV computers from here into the 21st Century before you got to numbers like that,” he said.

Brown said the error was inherited from her Republican predecessor and that her office uncovered it through a management review she initiated.

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The $2.8 billion was an accounting error and “did not cause loss of actual cash deposits or security values,” Brown said in a May, 1992, letter to the state auditor general.

“And it has been cleaned up with a plan to fix it that was put into place over a year ago,” she said Thursday. “That’s the kind of action that I think ought to take place up and down state government.

“We’re talking about a problem Pete Wilson inherited and let drift until millions more dollars were being wasted. It’s a perfect example of contrast in leadership style.”

The DMV computer modernization program was undertaken in the late 1980s to transfer driver’s license, vehicle registration and other data from archaic databases to a new system.

The project never worked and the Wilson Administration decided to abandon it this year. An internal DMV investigation released in late May concluded that DMV officials bought the system on the basis of overly optimistic sales pitches without properly evaluating whether the computer could meet the department’s needs.

Brown said she planned to make a new “Rip Van Wilson” award each week. Asked what she would have done if she had been in Wilson’s place, taking office as governor in early 1991, she said: “The first thing I would have done is to have a management audit internally and find out what the problem was and cure it. We’ve had to wait three years.”

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