May 30, 2002 4:30 PM PDT

California widens Oracle investigation

State legislators investigating a controversial $95 million Oracle contract have expanded their witness list to include testimony from workers in other states that have had Oracle contracts, state officials said Thursday.

Assemblyman Dean Florez, the committee chairman, said he hoped the additional witnesses from Ohio, North Dakota and Montana, as well as Toronto, Canada, could give the committee some insight into how to cancel the Oracle deal and how to restructure the state's technology purchasing policy to avoid similar problems.

"We're tying to ascertain who we are doing business with and if these are the kind of folks we want to do business with in the long term," Florez said.

The new witness list comes after CNET News.com on Tuesday reported troubled Oracle deals that involved government agencies in Ohio and Toronto.

California officials launched their investigation last month into the six-year no-bid contract, which the state is now in the process of canceling.

The California contract sells the state more Oracle database licenses than the state has employees and costs at least $6 million more than it should, according to the auditor's report. Oracle maintains that the contract could save California as much as $163 million.

City officials in Toronto are trying to extract themselves from their own $11 million Oracle contract that auditors estimate is 10 times what the city needed. And in Ohio, officials changed their information technology contracting procedures after some frustrating negotiations with the software company.

Officials in Ohio were unaware of a request from the California legislative committee as of Thursday afternoon, said Ben Piscitelli, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. Representatives in Toronto did not return calls Thursday.

The controversy in California has embroiled California Gov. Gray Davis, who is seeking re-election in November. Davis received a $25,000 campaign contribution from Oracle days after signing the contract. A Davis technology adviser was forced to resign last month after it was revealed that he accepted the contribution from Oracle after taking part in discussions about the contract.

On Wednesday, the adviser's replacement, Vin Patel, was also forced to resign because of a perceived conflict of interest. His brother works at a software company that has a contract with the state. Patel is the third official to lose his job over the software scandal, and a fourth is on a paid leave of absence.

The committee is continuing to seek all documents connected to the case from the governor's office and other parties. Oracle was expected to turn over documents Thursday, including information about a $25,000 bonus Oracle paid to its Sacramento lobbyist, Ravi Mehta, just before the state signed the contract. Mehta is the lobbyist that delivered the campaign contribution to a Davis adviser days after the signing.

 

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