Santana: County IT Collapse Should Prompt a Reboot, Not Just a New Chief

Christina Koslosky, who recently quit as the county's IT director, reacts to a question about how much has been spent on the county's largest IT contract at the May 24, 2016 supervisors' meeting.

County of Orange

Christina Koslosky, who recently quit as the county's IT director, reacts to a question about how much has been spent on the county's largest IT contract at the May 24, 2016 supervisors' meeting.

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After more than a decade of being systematically squeezed for campaign contributions by county supervisors – and being gamed by one IT contractor after another – the half-eaten carcass of the county’s IT systems publicly beached itself last week – with the quiet resignation of Chief Information Officer Christina Koslosky.

One former contractor has already been taken to court and the current vendor probably isn’t far behind. Costs are up while performance and reliability are both down. All of the county’s independently elected finance officials (Auditor-Controller, Treasurer-Tax Collector, Assessor, and Clerk-Recorder) have already openly revolted against county administration of their IT.

Koslosky is the fourth IT director – after Dan Hatton, Satish Ajmani and Mahesh Patel – I’ve seen leave in quiet shame over the last decade –usually after years of cost overruns, poor performance and constant re-scoping of costly outsourced contracts.

And independently elected officials also have themselves fueled their own series of IT scandals, which county supervisors have had to inherit because they oversee the budget.

Former Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom also left his own IT mess when he left for Sonoma County and former Assessor Webster Guillory also had his own decade-long legacy of IT cost overruns and performance issues before he resigned in disgrace over unrelated election fraud charges.

Now let’s not kid ourselves, there’s one constant here: campaign contributions.

And the ensuing fuzzy contracts they seem to trigger, where no one is ever held accountable and hundreds of millions are spent with little to no effort by any public official to explain in any understandable manner what is being achieved at such great costs.

Now, keep in mind this is a so-called conservative county board of supervisors that has collectively spent the last decade pounding away on things like employee pensions, arguing it’s a rising cost that has to be understood, tamed.

Yet just watch this video, where Koslosky is asked a simple question earlier this month at a public meeting: How much have we spent on the county’s largest IT contract?

The answer is about $55 million.

Yet Koslosky’s inabilty to answer that straightforward question is a poster-child moment for the failed IT policies that have been implemented over the years – leaving us all incredibly vulnerable in an area where we need the strongest and smartest people.

And when taxpayers have a question, it doesn’t matter if the name is Hatton, Ajmani, Patel or Koslosky, the answer is the same each time.

A blank stare…

The reaction from county supervisors is also the same, again and again.

Feigned indignation…

Collective shock and surprise that these public sector executives can’t make the patchwork of contracts they’ve assembled through political deals work.

Then there are the calls for reform.

Followed, of course, by a public admission of guilt that they don’t know what they’ve authorized and need to find out more.

I seem to remember former Supervisor Pat Bates having several of these public moments of clarity.

But then, as usual with government, there’s no public follow up.

Just private stalling, which protects status quo…

And nothing changes until the next blow up.

Now, lets not forget that IT is the backbone of virtually every government department.

And in Orange County, it’s breaking down more and more.

That means critical, and I mean critical, public safety services are going down.

One recent log of system disruptions found that in some cases, they go down for hours.

And while county supervisors will bristle at this, the truth is that this is the result of approaching outsourcing like a sport (which works great for campaigns), instead of a business tool (which works great for governing).

It’s also the result of not growing and nurturing a consistent and reliable IT team, one that can handle simple things like delivering emails and getting web browsers to work.

Now, I don’t think county supervisors are corrupt here – this isn’t an issue of quid-pro-quo campaign cash for IT contracts.

I wish it were that simple.

County supervisors have hired bad managers and not held corporate partners accountable along the way. They’ve kept authorizing more spending without asking detailed questions; and based on their questions in open session have never taken the time to really understand what the challenges facing the county really are when it comes to IT.

And in the midst of all this confusion and lack of information, they have allowed the campaign cash to cloud their judgment.

The entire RFP process for all these massive IT contracts was set up under highly questionable circumstances back around 2006 when supervisors first set up a committee to ostensibly review the very issues that continue to plague them a decade later.

The committee was set up by then supervisor, shortly thereafter, state senator and now congressional candidate, Lou Correa — after the scandal of the day when Hatton left in 2005 and there were issues with the Cerner Corp. on Health Care Agency software.

The committee never did anything.

Then another then-Supervisor and now State Senator Janet Nguyen took up the IT charge, working with the committee for a while before sunsetting it (with nothing resolved) and embarking the county on a new massive RFP for IT services.

That is the $138 million contract (actually authorized at $132 million and recently expanded by $6 million with another change order) that is blowing up now.

Instead of continuing to defend that process, supervisors should take advantage of this latest break to stop, rethink where they are and strategize about where they want to go.

This is the step they keep missing over the last decade.

We’ve seen what a campaign cash-infused IT approach looks like.

I’m certainly ready for a new approach.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there were issues with Cerner Corp. and Social Services Agency software. The problems were with Health Care Agency software. We regret the error.

  • octaxpayer

    First of all Christina is the CIO not IT director. you need to look into the failing of the IT director who is to KC Rostenberg . He and the PMO office is the real problem as they were told this will not work and they told staff to shut up . They hid facts from Christina.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This IS the result of corruption – this is quid pro quo – campaign cash for IT contracts!

  • Paul Lucas

    How does the county survive conducting themselves this way?

    • octaxpayer

      They survive by taking more tax $$$ and foolishly have inferior upper IT directors and project managers. They meaning KC made deals with agencies committee members to enhance there carriers to go with the flow of miss information. All on the committee should be fired.

  • Jacki Livingston

    There is a piece of this that you are missing, Norberto, and it is a little thing called CalWin. CalWin is an integrated computer system linking the tax boards, unemployment, disability, MediCal and IRS, among other entities, and it was mandated by the feds to cut down on waste and fraud. Some counties in California use their own systems, but, by and large, most of the counties use CalWin. When this system was being created, SSA pushed for one of their “up and coming” young managers to be an integral person on the creation and programming of this system. He was the ultimate crony, related to at least a dozen people in county higher ups and extremely close to the very top managers. CalWin is supposed to give county workers a ‘heads up’ if there are irregularities that might indicate fraud, such as people getting a job and paying into Social Security, or if they have large bank accounts. When it was put in, I was working for a special division called LTC. For us, the bottom line was that each nursing home or provider would only have ONE billing code number. This would reduce any possibility of a nursing home charging for patients who had passed away, or double billing.

    The Cronymanager was helping to not only design the system, but teach it to employees at SSA. In 2008, I found irregularities regarding patients who were on life support or comatose. I didn’t see any on patients who were not in this condition. The patients I found had families who were not well educated, or they were not able to speak English or there was no family. The patient would suffer a devastating injury or illness that would put them on life support. They would apply for Social Security, and it takes months for approval. They would receive a large lump sum, then monthly payments. The nursing home financial office would strongarm the family into letting them be the patient rep payee, and they would have to spend that money down, as patients cannot have more than two thousand dollars. I found burial plans that had never been paid for, private pay months that they billed the state for, gifts to family members never given…all kind of falsified explanations and documents for where the patients’ money went to. These particular nursing homes were part of a large chain that was being sued for abuse, mistreatment and malpractice. I went to my Assistant Regional Manager, and showed him the evidence. He instructed me to look up every nursing home and small home providers, and figure out how many billing codes they had. Many had up to five different billing codes. Many were billing the state multiple times for the same patient. At the cost of seven to twenty-five grand a month, this added up. One facility was pocketing over a million dollars a year in ill gotten false overbilling. I gave my bosses a list, and got back over $200,000 dollars of stolen patient money back into the families’ hands.

    Clearly, I messed with someone’s money. They embarked on a campaign of false accusations, writing me up for doing absolutely nothing, denying me promotional opportunity and making violent, physical threats. I sent emails, letters and voicemails to all of the County Supervisors. I met with an ADA named Ron Frazier. I testified three times before the Grand Jury. I went to the state, the feds and no one cared. The ONLY politicians who bothered to respond were Janet Nguyen and Congressman Ken Calvert from my area district. Nguyen’s office basically told me to mind my own business. Calvert was very kind and contacted Shawn Nelson, and his Chief of Staff emailed me, and then did nothing about it.

    CalWin is a huge part of the County’s IT budget. Most of the departments use it. However, it has been corrupted for the personal wealth and gain of cronies and criminals. After I found all of this felony criminal activity going on, they restricted worker access, so that no one can find out if a facility or client is committing a crime. Plus, caseworkers are forbidden to investigate fraud. The inmates are running the asylum, but they want to blame these poor sods, who get into their job and discover all of the various entities who are manipulating the system for their own criminal enterprise. It goes all the way to the top.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Your mistake is you went to County officials and gave them all the info so they could “protect the OC Brand” and then get rid of you.

      Note to any future OC whistleblowers – do NOT go to any County official. Go straight to the Feds. File your case and get out.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Who says I gave them everything? *chuckle* I’ve played enough poker to know that you don’t show your hand. Brock Zimmons and the Grand Jury kept asking me for the internal documents. They were so demanding and wanting to know whose emails and files I had? I played dumb, because I knew they were shady the second time they demanded I testify. They were fishing and I wasn’t biting. I was born at night, but not last night. I have documents where senior HR managers admitted to forging my signature on request to transfer. I have CalVin print outs. What they wanted most was THE list, a printout with the names and multiple billing codes for the LTC providers. Only upper management can issue a code. That is the smoking gun. I think I said I lost it. These things happen with six boxes of documents. *innocent whistle*

        I would agree to not going to county officials. Don’t go to local cops. They are all in bed together. But make sure you don’t go to the FBI. Their agent said that unless it is tens of millions of dollars, they won’t put time into it. Apparently, corruption in local government is too common to worry about. Go to the media, then to the national whistle-blower agency. Whatever you do, do not think that someone within chain of command will help you. They won’t. People I thought of as friends, who I loaned money and cared about, did nothing. People in government have no integrity, ethics or soul. They sell it to their masters, for a pension and benefits.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Oh, and don’t go to your union. They will sell you down the river in a snap. The unions are as corrupt as the politicians.

  • David Zenger

    “Now, I don’t think county supervisors are corrupt here – this isn’t an issue of quid-pro-quo campaign cash for IT contracts.”

    Oh dear me. Janet Nguyen had her grubby little fingers so deep into the IT contracting process that it was completely hijacked from sense or reality. She had Mahesh Patel terrified. There was no more politicized function in the County.

    And yet structurally, the “decentralized” model of Tom Mauk gave every department head the opportunity and the motive to undermine a coherent central IT authority. The other electeds were just as useless. They not only fought central authority, they effectively dodged accountability, too. When it finally became apparent the PTMS project was never going to happen and that millions would be spent staying on the mainframe David Sunstrom, chief architect of the disaster skipped out. But it was all foretold for over a year in IV & V reports made by Deloitte.

    Meantime, the Supervisors with their million dollar office budgets never thought to employ staff that were competent to understand the IT function and processes in the County so the actual representatives of the people were at the mercy of (mis)information provided by their terrified and abused IT staff.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Everything you said is right on the money. *applause*