Editorial: Learn more before suing Oracle

Published Jun 3, 2014 at 12:01AM

Gov. John Kitzhaber is going on the offense in the Cover Oregon debacle, seeking to shift the focus to website developer Oracle’s failings and away from errors by the state.

Offense may play better politically than defense, but with at least four federal investigations ongoing, a lawsuit against Oracle Corp. may be premature.

Kitzhaber launched his volley last week by asking Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to “immediately initiate legal action to recover payments and other damages from Oracle …” Rosenblum’s response was cautious, saying her team was “fully engaged in the ‘legwork’” and “thoroughly investigating the facts and developing successful legal strategies.” She offered the governor a “confidential update.”

Kitzhaber also asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to levy fines against Oracle and sought help from Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

Armed with a report from First Data, a company Oregon hired to figure out what went wrong, Kitzhaber said Oracle “promised something it did not deliver.” He admitted the state made mistakes and listed steps he has taken to correct those errors, such as replacing top leadership and bringing in a reorganization team. The state has been widely criticized for its failure to hire a systems integrator to oversee the Cover Oregon project, and with making “time and material” contracts with Oracle that required paying for programmers’ time rather than for a finished product.

Oracle has responded by saying the state mismanaged the project. The huge technology company said extensive documentation exists to show the state failed to deliver requirements to Oracle.

Because Cover Oregon’s bills were paid by the federal government, ongoing federal probes are being conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. House oversight committee.

Better to see where those investigations lead than to launch an expensive, complex legal action against Oracle, a company that would no doubt be a formidable legal foe, especially given the complex mix of state and corporate error involved.