County balks at contract in wake of Pac Bell's woes (computer problems)greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Wednesday, October 6, 1999
County Balks at Contract in Wake of PacBell's Woes Technology: Officials have put a $250-million deal with the company on hold after reports citing mass disruptions. By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Times Staff Writer
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os Angeles County on Tuesday balked at signing a $250-million contract with Pacific Bell to install a new countywide computer system after a story in The Times about the telephone company's troubles running a statewide computer network. County officials were openly upset at what they said was the telecommunications giant's failure to tell them about its problems with the state system, which this year has led to massive disruptions in service for state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. "We've already had several meetings with them today where we've discussed our displeasure with their lack of forthrightness with this problem," Chief Information Officer John Fullinwider said. A delegation of county officials will travel to Sacramento to meet with the state about its computer problems, and county lawyers are being asked to review the contract to ensure that they would not be on the hook for any problems with the network. One county supervisor suggested that the contract could be rebid. Steve Getzug, a spokesman for PacBell, welcomed the further review. "It's reasonable that Los Angeles County would inquire," he said, "but we feel that after its review the county is going to reach the same conclusion--that Pacific Bell is the best company for the job." Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said PacBell had urged the county to sign the contract weeks ago. "We would have been stuck with a five-year contract with a company whose system is crashing throughout the state of California," he said. He added that he was skeptical about potential explanations from PacBell and that perhaps the contract should be rebid. "I've been through this too many times," said Yaroslavsky, who criticized the county's staff for not alerting supervisors to the problem. "We're going to be told what we want to hear until the contract is signed." Indeed, Los Angeles County has had a run of computer problems dating to a massive Health Department computer that crashed for good in the early 1990s. Problems with managing computer contracts is a recurring theme in many of the scoldings supervisors deliver to county department heads. "We really need to be sure that before we sign off on this deal, we have all the answers," said Supervisor Gloria Molina. "This is a dangerous area for government." The network PacBell is to design for the county would link the county's more than three dozen departments and enable the public to access public records online. "This network will be the backbone network that will tie all the county facilities together," Fullinwider said. "It'll be one of the biggest strategic assets the county has." He added that the structure would be different than PacBell's state system, and that theoretically, the project is doable. "There's no reason why it shouldn't work," he said. Getzug said PacBell never pressured the county to swiftly approve the contract and did not alert the county to its problems with the state system because the two systems are technically very different. "We feel that is behind us," Getzug said of the state's difficulties. Outages on PacBell systems networking state computers have led to delays in processing DMV paperwork, the periodic inability of California Highway Patrol officers to check suspects' criminal records, and California's troubles running a program to deliver food to poor families. State officials blamed the problems on PacBell's inexperience in computer work. The company won high praise for running those same agencies' telephone and voice mail systems, but officials in Sacramento said PacBell apparently could not deliver equivalent service in the computer field. PacBell officials have said they are improving their computer performance in their $1-billion deal with the state. The company now provides telephone service for Los Angeles County. Under the terms of the contract, awarded to the telecommunications company in March 1998 over two other bidders, it would build a computer network to connect county departments. Fullinwider and Joan Ouderkirk, the interim director of the county's Internal Services Department, said they had checked PacBell's references before recommending that it receive the contract. Both said the references were positive. As of December, Fullinwider said, the state had not reported any problems with PacBell to the county. The problems, state officials said, began this year. The contract has again caused tension between supervisors and some of the county's technical staff over how thoroughly the county reviews its computer deals. Yaroslavsky, who said his office was concerned about the contract even before The Times' story, complained that county staff had not placed enough legal safeguards in the contract to protect taxpayers. "Our people were asleep at the switch," he said.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 07, 1999