Recent media reports have called attention to the Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) new electronic licensing and enforcement system, known as BreEZe. Although BreEZe was initially pitched as a one-stop shop for consumers, licensees, and applicants, the roll out of the system has been anything but easy. Specifically, the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), one of the first consumer protection boards to integrate BreEZe into its operations, is experiencing application processing delays for nursing licenses. As a result of the backlog, graduates of nursing programs are not receiving their license to practice in a timely manner, jeopardizing their ability to secure jobs.
This is not the first instance where the launch or upgrade of a state information technology (IT) system has resulted in processing delays, glitches in website functionality, or other customer service problems. For example, an upgrade of the Employment Development Department’s computer system last fall resulted in the delay of unemployment checks to approximately 150,000 Californians.i More recently, Covered California was offline for days due to a software malfunction during an update, frustrating consumers wanting to enroll in health plans.ii There are also instances where state IT systems are halted before their launch, such as the courts’ $500 million case management system or the State Controller’s nine-year effort to update the state’s payroll system.iii
Consequently, the recent BreEZe computer system debacle leads lawmakers and the public to question the state’s ability to effectively execute policies and procedures necessary in the development and implementation of new IT projects.
What is BreEZe?
The mission of the DCA is to protect and serve California consumers while ensuring a competent and fair marketplace. The department issues licenses in more than 100 business and 200 professional categories through regulatory entities. To help fulfill that mission, in October 2013 DCA launched its rollout of BreEZe, a $52 million computer system developed by the tech firm, Accenture.iv
Under this new online system, consumers can file a complaint and verify a professional license while licensees will be able to submit a license application, renew a license, track the status of a request, submit a change of address, make a payment, and obtain proof of renewal status. It’s important to note that as semiautonomous organizations each board, commission, committee, and bureau will determine how the BreEZe system will be integrated into its business model. For instance, some boards may still choose to use paper forms for licensing and utilize the system for its data storage capabilities while others may incorporate all the online features available in the program. As a result, there will be no uniformity on system usage among the consumer protection entities.
In addition to the licensing features, BreEZe provides technical support for DCA’s enforcement process. As previously mentioned, a consumer can use the online system to determine if a practitioner has a license and if any disciplinary action has been taken against the licensee. The public can also file complaints against licensees if an alleged violation of the law occurred. Once a complaint is received, the regulating entity will conduct an investigation to determine if any disciplinary or criminal action is necessary. In past years, DCA faced criticism regarding delays in enforcement turn-around times with some taking three years to resolve. The goal of the new computer system is to track and manage enforcement cases more efficiently as a quick resolution to consumer complaints, in the best interest of the public and all parties involved. Furthermore, BreEZe will expand DCA’s capability to compile statistics and collect other relevant data for both the enforcement and licensing processes.
DCA plans on rolling out BreEZe in multiple releases. Currently, BreEZe is slated for three releases with anywhere between 9 to 18 regulatory entities included in each roll out for a total of 37 participating DCA boards, commissions, committees, and bureaus. The table below outlines the BreEZe release schedule. According to DCA’s website, once all of the releases of the system are complete, “BreEZe will be the largest enterprise licensing and enforcement solution in the world, bringing with it improved access to services, greater ease of use for stakeholders, and improved back-office functionality that will greatly enhance licensing and enforcement efficiency. Specifically, the automated system will improve data quality, replace old technology, and bring DCA’s services to the web for customer self-service.” BreEZe was originally scheduled to be completed by 2014, but because of delays in the system’s launch, the final rollout is projected to be completed by February 2016. However, due to problems with the first release of BreEZe, it is anticipated that the project completion date will be further delayed.
BreEZe Release Schedule
Source: Department of Consumer Affairs Website
Delays and System Inefficiencies
According to DCA’s website, the program is called BreEZe “because many of the tasks that were paper-based and took some time and effort to complete will now be a, well, BreEZe.” However, as previously stated, problems with launching the new system have caused severe processing delays for nursing license applicants. Prior to the BRN’s implementation of BreEZe, it took approximately six to eight weeks at most to process a license application. This included mailing the application to the board, entering data from the paper application form into the system, evaluating the application, and performing a background check. It was thought that the implementation of BreEZe would reduce the amount of time it takes the board to process an application, however, under BreEZe, the BRN has not been able to accept online applications for new nursing licenses as originally planned due to a defective module in the system.v As a result, board staff has to physically enter into the system the data received from paper application forms and is advising applicants that it may take 90 days for their applications to be processed due to the backlog. Once completed, applicants will be authorized to take their licensure examination.vi
Unfortunately, this delay has jeopardized employment opportunities among recent graduates of nursing programs. In fact, according to The Sacramento Bee, a recent graduate of Sacramento City College lost her job offer because she was unable to take the licensure examination in time. Others who have accepted employment on the condition they receive their license are still waiting, hoping they will not share a similar fate. Much of the backlog is due to the timing of the first rollout of the new system. The launch of BreEZe coincided with the peak season for nursing license applications as most nursing programs graduate students in December. It is also important to note that hospitals experiencing staffing shortages have been negatively affected by this backlog as well.
In addition to licensing delays, there have been complaints that the system is not user friendly. For instance, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times argued that the website should be more consumer-focused, calling BreEZe “confusing, misleading, unbelievably clunky and serves well as a definition of ‘user-unfriendly.’”vii In addition, employees have struggled with adapting to the new computer system. This learning curve, impacted by the additional steps needed to manually enter applicant data in the system, has resulted in increased workload and processing times.
To help address the problems with BreEZe, DCA moved additional staff to the BRN to help process applications so the backlog could be eliminated as quickly as possible. As a result, nursing license applications are currently being processed in 60 days, according to testimony provided by DCA and BRN staff in a recent joint oversight hearing of the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee. In addition, DCA issued a letter that applicants can share with prospective employers to explain the reason for the licensure delay. The letter states, “Due to circumstances beyond the control of the Board of Registered Nursing, the application processing time for new licenses has increased significantly over the past several weeks…This has inconvenienced many of our applicants who, through no fault of their own, must wait significantly longer for a license than applicants have had to wait in the past.” The Director of DCA, Denise D. Brown, continues to state in the letter, “In the meantime, however, we hope potential employers will recognize that the delays in licensure experienced by their candidates are unavoidable, and that they will be as flexible as they can with those candidates whose licenses have been delayed.”
While DCA has taken important steps to correct the inefficiencies caused by BreEZe, more work must be done to ensure that the transition to the new system is smooth and reliable for future releases. More importantly, all the glitches that occurred during the first release should be fixed before moving on to the next phase of the rollout. Improving access to services and enhancing efficiency are laudable goals, but the system must align with that mission in order for it to be truly successful.
i “EDD is ordered to take steps to improve service.” The Los Angeles Times. Feb. 7, 2014
ii “California website for Obamacare back up after 5-day outage.” The Los Angeles Times. Feb. 24, 2014.
iii “More than $4 billion in California state IT projects underway.” The Sacramento Bee. Oct. 25, 2013
iv “New computer system’s trouble starts with state workers, officials say.” The Sacramento Bee. Feb. 7, 2014.
v “Nursing graduates are frustrated by California’s new online licensing system.” The Modesto Bee. Feb. 16, 2014.
vi “Computer system upgrades delay licensing for nursing graduates.” The Los Angeles Times. Feb. 12, 2014.
vii “How do you make a bad regulator even worse?” The Los Angeles Times. Oct. 11, 2013.