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Major computer and phone network problems have affected Orange County government agencies in recent days, including taking out all of one department’s systems for a full day, according to officials.

It’s unclear exactly how widespread the problems – some of which were attributed to county contractor Xerox Corp. – have been.

The county’s information technology director, Christina Koslosky, hasn’t returned messages seeking information about the outages.

But at the clerk-recorder’s office, county staff were cut off completely from their computer systems for an entire work day last week.

“We were completely down, every system we have,” said Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen, whose department, among other duties, processes business name requests and maintains birth, marriage and death certificates.

Nguyen’s staff wrote paper receipts for transactions due to the outage, he said, and the systems were back online by Friday.

The problem in his department’s case centered on a newly-installed router that turned out to be bad, Nguyen added, and efforts by Xerox to fix the issue took longer than expected.

“Personally I think it could have probably been fixed quicker,” Nguyen said.

Additionally, phones in multiple Orange County departments went down for about two hours Monday morning due to problems at a Xerox facility in Texas, according to a message obtained by Voice of OC.

“An issue in the Xerox Dallas Data Center is causing phones to have not [sic] dial tone or register/unregister,” said the email to at least seven county departments from Xerox, which is tasked with upgrading the county’s phone and computer networks under a $132 million contract.

Ten locations were affected by the phone outages, it added.

County IT director Koslosky, who oversees the Xerox contract, has so far declined to discuss the outages.  She didn’t return messages Thursday and Monday, and  county spokeswoman Jean Pasco said as of close of business Monday county officials had given her no information on any outages. However, she said she was aware there were problems because she was in the county clerk-recorder’s office last week while their system was down.

Additionally, a spokeswoman for the county Health Care Agency, which was apparently among those affected by outages in recent days, declined to say how the issues were affecting her agency.

“Because it’s a CEO-IT issue, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment,” said spokeswoman Deanne Thompson, deferring comment to Pasco.

The network issues come after Xerox Corp. was accused by county executives of causing months-long delays in the network upgrades, with the project estimated to go more than $13 million over budget.

County staff have been regularly running into serious problems with phone and computer networks since Xerox started working on them, according to the county government’s largest union, the Orange County Employees Association.

“Every week we’re hearing about repeated issues with the network, and they range from network down time to resolutions that don’t actually fix the problem, which cause great frustrations among the people that are trying to do the work to [serve] the community,” said Jennifer Muir, the union’s assistant general manager.

Issues include 911 emergency calls not working properly, computer networks operating extremely slowly and phone systems going down.

“To have a situation like that where members of the public can’t get through” on the phone and county staff can’t dial out, “that’s a serious problem,” Muir said.

The union has been hearing about high turnover with Xerox’s technicians, she added.

“[They] keep cycling in new people who are not knowledgeable at all with the county system,” to the point where if something goes wrong, “county staff is having to show Xerox how to fix it,” Muir said.

Meanwhile, one department head said he resisted pressure to join the Xerox contract, in large part due to concerns about it making his agency’s systems more vulnerable to going down.

“If you mess with a computer system and you don’t know what you’re doing…it’s a never ending” chaos, said Orange County Assessor Claude Parrish, who as an elected official has far greater independence than most department heads.

“I’m not a Xerox fan,” he added.  “Just the photocopies…that’s our only connection.”

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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