Bureaucrat Beat: Computer Scapegoats, Bad Will and Website Wow

It’s easy to blame inanimate objects for bad outcomes. They do play a role, but we are, as some say, the deciders. In three dramatic examples, we’ll show you what we mean. Technology has lately surfaced as the bugaboo of major snafus, but an honest look at the three screw-ups points the finger of blame at humans.computer.jpeg

First, ROSS. That’s an acronym for Resource Ordering and Status System. The report on the Inyo Complex Fire reveals that this national computer system caused problems. Those in charge of the fire order resources to fight fires – manpower and equipment – through this computerized system. The Inyo Complex Fire report says that the ROSS system was overloaded. Quoting from the report: “Dispatch could not process our pre-order and valuable time and energy was lost due to a delay in delivery of logistical and fire resource needs.”

Later, the report states, “Initial resource order lost in ROSS.” So, at the critical start of the fire, computer failures lost what is most needed – time. If the fires had actually made it to Independence or Big Pine, this failure would have gone beyond minor concern to major loss and heartbreak.

The internet says the ROSS system “improves efficiency of borrowing and sending home of fire equipment in a large, campaign-type fire. It coordinates equipment movements across bureaucratic lines, making state and federal resources look more like a single pool of equipment and staff.” Okay. That does sound good, and we can see the potential for a fast pounce on deadly fire. We hope to learn more about why ROSS failed here. Maybe when computers fail, people need a back-up plan to get equipment here by phone to where it is needed. Fire starts small. That’s the place the fight has to start. If computers can’t hack it, so to speak, go to the old-fashioned way. Get engines, manpower and equipment to that small start and do battle.

Next computer foul-up: Headlines in the Los Angeles times say “Glitch strands 6,000 at LAX.” The story says that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection computer system went down. That forced some planes to sit on the tarmac for so long that workers had to refuel them to keep their power units and air conditioning systems running. Seems that the computer failure prevented Customs from accessing a list that would include names of people suspected of possible problems according to Homeland Security. International Flights – incoming and departing had to just sit there. A computer chip had suddenly gone wrong, and there was no back-up plan.

Computers do act up, we all know that. If electronic miscreants are preceded by intelligent decisions, a rude surprise can meet with a cushion of alternatives so that life does not grind to a fatal halt.

Computer fatality number three – The California Secretary of State decertified all computerized voting machines in the state, including ours in the Eastern Sierra. A report by computer scientists says the machines can be hacked and votes altered. Now what? voting_machines.jpg
Democracy needs the peoples’ vote. Did someone make a cavalier decision to use computers to tally our views? Did they just hope for speedy vote-counts and no muss, no fuss? The Bureaucrat Beat staff huddled on this one and decided unanimously that we don’t care how long it takes to count the peoples’ votes. We want them accurate no matter how long it takes. Was there some reason someone did not ask computer scientists to give us their view on hacking before the computers went into service? Computers are great tools, but people still have to use their brains to decide how and when to use them.

Wrap your brain around this election-related story. We told you about Inyo County Counsel Paul Bruce’s advice to the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution that would put tobacco lawsuit settlement money in the county budget before it goes to Inyo’s two hospitals. A few years back, voters strongly supported Measure B, which dedicated the tobacco dollars to our two struggling hospitals..

The new Inyo County resolution still says the tobacco money will go to the hospitals, but now the money must go first to the county budget. Mr. Bruce says that a lawsuit in Ventura County proved the electorate can not control county budgets; so to avoid a lawsuit against Measure B or the County, he advised the Supervisors to pass a new resolution which would give them control over the tobacco money. That seems possibly Kosher, but the local electorate is suspicious, mostly because Inyo Boards of Supervisors have, in the past, ignored public votes with no small amount of patronizing disdain. Mr. Bruce was in that pack. Measure B says nothing about controlling county budgets, it just calls for state dollars to go to the hospitals not to the county bureaucracy where past Supervisors wanted the funds to go. For the past three or four years, the tobacco money has come from the state, into a trust fund in the county auditor’s office and immediately off to the hospitals.

Mr. Bruce still insists that the Ventura County case found that it is beyond the power of the electorate to budget county funds, which means a potential legal problem here, even though the funds were never in the county budget. Bruce claims there was a threat to sue over Measure B. How real was the threat? “I got the information fourth of fifth hand,” admitted Bruce.

Maybe the nervous jitters over this move by the Inyo Board could have been handled with more aplomb. The Bishop Supervisors should have brought the Northern Inyo Hospital Board into the discussion before they voted on a resolution, had an open discussion with them about this Ventura County case. Southern Inyo Hospital’s administrator was brought into the issue, why not Northern Inyo? And, remember both hospitals had sued the county over all of this. Communication could have helped with understanding and demonstrated good will in an arena where the bad will still lingers like an unwanted relative.

To end on an up note. A Bureaucrat Beat thank you to Paul Mercer a recently new resident of the Eastern Sierra who emailed us appreciation for our new website and , as she put it, “the just plan old ‘WOW’ of finding out things.” Thanks, Paula.

This is Benett Kessler, signing off for Bureaucrat Beat. We want to hear from you on our lives in the Eastern Sierra and beyond.

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