As I’m sure you guys are all aware, this afternoon the City Council will be holding a special budget meeting to address the shortfall in the City’s current year budget. But the fun doesn’t end there! After the budget meeting, we’ve got the regular Council meeting (PDF) to look forward to. Thankfully, the agenda is relatively short and looks like it won’t go too long, although you really never can tell.
Anyway, there’s some exciting stuff buried in there. Of particular note is the decidedly unsexy sounding, but incredibly important and long overdue upgrade of the City’s radio technology (PDF) so that our emergency services will be able to communicate with emergency services in other Cities and the County.
Perhaps you recall the announcement of this initiative back in September 2007 (apologies for having to link to the city across the Bay – a link for our version remains on the Mayor’s website, but is, of course, broken). The idea is to make it so, in an emergency, like if there’s a huge earthquake or something, public safety agencies all over the Bay Area will be able to talk to one another.
It’s expensive, but clearly necessary. And who is in charge of managing this upgrade that ensures we’ll all be safer in the earthquake? Why, it’s our lovely Department of Information Technology! Yay, IT. Look at how much good they do for us with their fancy skills and ability to understand the technical details of things like 800 MHz digital trunked radio systems and P-25 voice interoperability upgrades! How should we thank them and make sure this vital bit of infrastructure get deployed as quickly and smoothly as possible? I have a great idea how! Let’s slash their budget!
So, the City didn’t actually have a centralized Department of Information Technology until the adoption of the FY07-09 budget, when the Mayor decided to consolidate IT positions from all the different departments into one department. (Note: I am referring only to the relatively immediate past.) This took IT positions previously assigned to specific departments and put them all under one umbrella. So, for example, the Fire Department and Parks and Recreation used to have their own IT people who were budgeted specifically to those departments, and as of the Mayor’s first budget, those positions no longer belonged to Fire Department or Parks and Recreation, and instead became part of the Department of Information Technology.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to such a move. I personally think it was a terrible idea, but what’s done is done, so the reasons why are not really worth getting into now. The Mayor’s rationale for the reorganization, as explained in the FY07-09 budget transmittal letter, was as follows:
A centralized Department of Information Technology will facilitate the City’s goal of effectively using technology to improve operations and provide improved service. This new department’s goal is to put technology to its maximum use in order to improve the execution of City programs and services. The Department of Information Technology will work collaboratively with other City departments to align business and technology objectives and to implement cost-effective solutions that enhance business transactions with the City’s internal and external customers.
So I guess that was the idea, and maybe, in a better run City, all those good things described above would have been the result of creating a single, unified IT Department. But for Oakland, as far as I can tell, the only thing it accomplished was that it made IT easier to cut because now nobody has to think about the relationship of IT and service delivery.
How easy, you ask? Well, IT, in the adopted FY07-08 budget, was assigned 100 FTE. In October of 2008, that got cut down to 86 FTE. IT took another hit in the FY09-11 budget adopted last June, going down to 80 FTE. And then, another when the budget was later amended, down to 76 FTE for FY10-11. And guess what we’ve got in the staff recommendation for adjustments at this afternoon’s meeting? That’s right, more IT cuts. Another 3 positions, in fact.
Here are the positions proposed to be cut from IT, and the impacts, as delineated in the agenda report (PDF)
Delete Microcomputer Systems Specialist 1: There would be significant delay in replacing and or troubleshooting damaged software or hardware for computer equipment citywide. Documentation of computer equipment inventory would be affected as well.
Delete Microcomputer Systems Specialist I: There would be a significant and severe delay in the response to failures on systems used by the Libraries and the Museum which would negatively impact downtime. There would also be significant delay in computer replacements and on troubleshooting damaged computer equipment.
Delete Microcomputer Systems Specialist III: There would be significant delay on the response to network related issues. Daily logs would not be monitored as frequent as they should be, possibly on a weekly rotation. Coordination of network services related to relocation of staff and office rearrangements would be delayed significantly as well.
So, yeah, I guess the radio people are safe for the moment, but seriously – when is this going to end? The City’s budget problems are not going away anytime soon, and the cuts are just going to keep coming. Given that, technology is probably just about the worst place to make cuts. Technology allows us to work more efficiently! It is the key to doing more with less. It totally eludes my comprehension why the Council just doesn’t seem to get that.
It’s like, their whole mindset is “Well, nobody is lining up at the podium to speak against crippling the IT Department, therefore it’s okay to do.” I just don’t get it. I was complaining to a friend who works at the City the other day about how terrible the proposed IT cuts were, and their response was like “What are you talking about? I thought the positions they wanted to take away were just people who fix computers when they’re broken.” Jesus! Yes, computers break, they need to be fixed! In what universe is it acceptable to just say it’s okay that we aren’t going to fix them in a timely manner?
The lone exception to this mindset is, no surprise, the youngest member of the Council. At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, bless her heart, keeps trying to hammer into her colleagues’ thick heads the importance of technology at every single one of these stupid and pointless budget meetings. Sadly, her pleas seem to perpetually fall on deaf ears and one vote out of eight is not enough to protect IT.)
This is a terrible problem with the Council. They look at everything from a PR perspective, rather than a public service perspective. They’re happy as long as they can say that oh, they’re not cutting services because they didn’t take any more money from parks, or libraries (the library has already been cut to the legal minimum, BTW), or whatever it is people show up in droves to advocate for. But lack of technical support severely impedes the ability of already strapped departments to deliver services to the public. Cutting IT is a service cut, whether or not you say so your ridiculously long weekly newsletter.
The whole thing just makes me really sad.