Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget Bill

Department of Forestry And Fire Protection (3540)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDFFP), under the policy direction of the Board of Forestry, provides fire protection services directly or through contracts for timberlands, rangelands, and brushlands owned privately or by state or local agencies. In addition, CDFFP (1) regulates timber harvesting on forestland owned privately or by the state and (2) provides a variety of resource management services for owners of forestlands, rangelands, and brushlands.

The budget requests $630.5 million for total departmental expenditures in 2001-02, including support and capital outlay expenditures. This is an increase of about $51 million (or 9 percent) above estimated current-year expenditures. Most of this increase reflects higher expenditures related to fire protection services and improvement of fire protection facilities.

The General Fund will provide the bulk of CDFFP's funding — $467.8 million (about 74 percent). The remaining funding will come from federal funds and reimbursements ($137.4 million), the Forest Resources Improvement Fund ($17.4 million), and various other state funds. Major budget proposals include: (1) $10.2 million to acquire a new computer aided dispatching (CAD) system, (2) $7 million for emergency communications system equipment, and (3) $6.5 million for prefire projects.

Legislature Should Monitor CAD Progress

The budget requests $10.2 million to acquire a new computer aided dispatching (CAD) system. While we concur with the need for a new CAD system, we think the size of the project and its importance to the mission of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDFFP) warrant close monitoring by the Legislature. We therefore recommend supplemental report language requiring CDFFP to report to the Legislature on a semiannual basis on the major milestones in the procurement, development, and implementation of CAD.

The budget requests $10.2 million from the General Fund to acquire a new CAD system designed to assist CDFFP in responding to emergencies and dispatching the appropriate resources. Funding ($13.8 million) for the same project was first provided in the 1999-2000 Budget Act. However, because the project did not proceed on schedule, most of the funds were reverted at the end of 1999-2000.

The CAD Is a Large Complex Project, Critical to the Mission of CDFFP. Due to the unique nature of CDFFP's activities, the department cannot buy a strictly off-the-shelf CAD system. Instead, the system must be designed to address the variety of incidents that CDFFP responds to, ranging from single incidents to large wildfires. In addition, the system must be able to handle a large fleet of resources (equipment and staff) that has to be mobilized in responding to some incidents. Furthermore, the CAD system will have to be integrated with other software applications the department uses in responding to incidents and managing information. The CDFFP estimates that a project of this scope and size will need to be implemented in phases and it may be seven years before the project is fully implemented.

Many Details of the Project Are Not Presently Available. The CDFFP is in the process of selecting a vendor for the CAD system using an "alternative procurement" process. The process allows the vendor to propose a "solution" to a stated business problem, rather than the department specifying a solution to be implemented by the vendor. This process is commonly used by state agencies implementing information technology and is considered a best practice because the risk related to determining the appropriate solution is predominantly shifted from the state to the vendor. However, with alternative procurement, actual costs and time lines for implementing a project will be proposed by the vendor rather than prescribed by the department. In the case of the CAD project, this means that key project information such as time lines, descriptions of major deliverables, and complete cost information will not be determined until a vendor is selected. As a consequence, this information is not currently available for the Legislature's review.

Recommend Reporting Requirements. We concur with CDFFP's request for a CAD system, and the use of an alternative procurement process to select a vendor. However, the alternative procurement process limits the Legislature's ability to assess the project's costs and details before approving the project. We think the project warrants close monitoring by the Legislature for several reasons. First, the project has already been delayed by two years. Second, it is a large, complex project anticipated to be implemented in several stages over seven years. Third, the project is critical to the department's mission. In order that the Legislature can monitor the project's progress, we recommend the adoption of the following supplemental report language:

The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection shall report to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the fiscal committee of each house by December 1, 2001 and semiannually thereafter, on major milestones in the procurement, development, and implementation of its computer-aided dispatch system. The department shall include in each report the estimated cost of each identified segment of the project. The department shall include time lines and implementation dates for major phases of the project and explanations for any deviations in its estimates from the previous reports.

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