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Mon, Sep

LA is the #1 Digital City – Say What?

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The Information Technology Agency (ITA) is a key part of the Los Angeles City infrastructure, managing IT (Information Technology) services for 18 elected officials, 41 City Departments and 48,000 City employees and, through services it provides the City, for four million Los Angeles residents, 97,000 Los Angeles businesses, and the 45 million tourists Los Angeles hosts in a normal year. 

It is also responsible for the City’s public safety communications, disaster recovery planning, including resiliency, redundancy, and business continuity. 

And for cybersecurity. 

(In)Security 

More than 70 state and local governments across the U.S. suffered ransomware attacks in 2019 costing millions in related losses and expenses, whether the ransom was paid or not. 

The ITA is tasked with ensuring that its ageing mainframe, peripherals, and internet system are adequately secured from cyberattacks and failures. It’s not. 

Last year, the City experienced a data breach which exposed personal information of 2,500 police officers and 17,500 LAPD applicants.

A system is only as strong as its weakest link. The City needs to further harden systems, establish consistent protocols, perform required and recommended upgrades and systems patches, and mandate and enforce state-of the-art cyber security and anti-virus protection. 

Under the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts, the ITA’s ability to protect the City against viruses – the computer kind – and perform intrusion detection monitoring will be curtailed, along with its capacity to quickly quarantine computers infected with ransomware.  

Payroll Problems

Give any working stiff a chance to reflect, and ultimately, the most important attribute of his or her job is. . .the paycheck. 

For decades, each City department has processed its own payroll through a system which is maintained and operated by an outside vendor who is a small sole proprietor. Any changes must be manually programmed.  

Relying on one person or small vendor to run such an important system is dangerous and exposes the City to risks associated with having a single source failure.  

To ensure the safety and efficiency of the City’s payroll, the ITA has been working through the challenges of transitioning all departments to a citywide system without any of the glitches that could delay people’s paychecks. 

This will now be delayed under the Mayor’s fiscal crackdown. 

The Departmental Silos 

Another huge problem for the ITA is the siloization of City departments each intent on protecting its territory and budget. This has allowed many to control their own IT and electronic upgrades, creating the inefficient patchwork system we live with today. 

As a result, the ITA is often faced with having to come in and troubleshoot problems after a department has already purchased hardware, equipment, or technology that may not be compatible with existing infrastructure.  

The City needs to centralize its IT functions, responsibilities, and applications. Technology should be acquired and maintained by the IT Department with the consultation of all who will use it. 

There should only be one IT group citywide and not one IT group per department. This will cut down on wasted staff hours caused by overlapping work and extra work required to calibrate or synchronize technologies and will save the City money.  

Budget Year 2020 

In the shelter-at-home spring, Mayor Garcetti informed Los Angeles City departments that they needed to share in the people’s pain. 

No department had submitted a budget expecting to receive more than they requested. But when the budgets were submitted, they could not have imagined the economic impact the pandemic would bring.

Visions of 2008 danced through their heads with the Mayor calling for furloughs across all departments at a time when many were already short-staffed and struggling to fulfill their obligations. 

Beyond the infrastructure that ITA oversees and tries to maintain, they also supply tech support in many crucial areas including for the emergency call centers as well as the police and fire communications systems. 

More importantly as the City itself depends more and more on staff working and providing services remotely, is the ITA’s importance to keeping that infrastructure functioning. 

In its analysis of the furlough impact as submitted to the City’ Budget & Finance Committee, the ITA’s General Manager writes: 

Every time the City of Los Angeles has encountered tough economic conditions, technology has become the key tool and resource to minimize the impact of furloughs on City services. This actually results in more requests and projects for the ITA. Enhanced websites, new apps, call center self-service options, additional on-line service request forms are all tools that ITA can provide to help mitigate the loss of staff in other City departments, but those efforts will be hindered by our own furloughs. 

A litany of potential perils runs through the rest of it: cyber security concerns, increased network system failures, the ITA operating at 80% staffing for a projected steep increase in workload, citizen frustration due to 311 call delays, and the risks arising from slashing 24/7 maintenance teams for the Police and Fire Departments’ communication towers and, possibly, tech support for the 911 and Emergency Management Centers. 

Under Garcetti’s austerity budget, the ITA will receive $10 million less from the City’s General Fund.  Some operational costs may be passed along to the other departments but that could exacerbate the siloization problems. What the ITA does not get is the additional funding needed to overhaul the City’s antiquated IT infrastructure. 

So now, the question that the Mayor’s office -- which is all about the optics -- has to field is: 

How can Los Angeles retain its title as #1 Digital City with its IT infrastructure compromised and hobbled by virus-induced budget constraints?

 

(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.