The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

October 15, 2009
Column extra: More about the WIC system shutdown; read the furlough report

With just 400 to 450 words for our Thursday State Worker column, much of what we learn in the ramp up to writing it never sees print. Column extras give you some of the notes, the quotes and the observations that don't make the cut.

We goofed. We first mentioned the Senate Oversight and Outcomes furlough report on Wednesday without linking to the report itself -- a clear oversight on our part. Click here to download the 15-page document, which we wrote about for today's State Worker fiber/cyber column in The Bee.

Our column today also mentions a massive computer system failure on Furlough Friday that shut down WIC for thousands of poor mothers and their children by freezing the check-writing capacity of about 650 local offices that administer the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program.

The California WIC Association believes "Furlough Friday" made a bad situation worse. The group outlines Friday's events in this press release. Laurie True, the association's executive director, said the matter is particularly galling to her members because furloughing WIC staff at the Department of Public Health, which administers the program, doesn't help the general fund. The program is paid with federal dollars.

Click the link below to read WIC Nutrition Division Chief Linnea Sallack's e-mail about the computer failure.


From: Sallack, Linnea (CDPH-CFH-WIC)
Sent: Monday, October 12, 2009 9:03 AM
To: CDPH WIC PWPC
Subject: Major ISIS Outage on Friday: Conference Call Today

I am very sorry that you experienced an unexpected and unacceptable loss of access to ISIS last Friday. I do not have details to share at this point, but we do know that the incident originated at the Office of Technology Data Center and resulted in a statewide outage for ISIS, VWIX and many other computer systems operated by that center. As you know, ISIS was not available at all between 10:15 and 2:00 and even when ISIS came back up, you were unable to print food instruments. Undoubtedly, thousands of participants were sent away from your offices empty handed and it will be incredibly difficult for you to get them served since your schedules are already overwhelming. This outage could not have occurred at a worse time.

I have elevated a complaint about this outage and will be pursuing information about the cause and about what the Office of Technology will do to prevent a future incident of this magnitude. I do not know if the fact that Friday was a furlough day was a cause of the outage and/or of the delay in recovering. That is a question that we have raised. While our WIC Technical Support Help Desk was operational on Friday and staff from the Department of Public Health Information Technology Services Division were also working, they were unfortunately unable to resolve the problem and had access to only limited information about the incident and recovery from the Office of Technology. I am sorry that you had difficulty trying to reach the WIC Help Desk and I hope you will understand that they had a difficult time keeping up with the volume of calls coming in from local agencies and vendors.

We want to help you in whatever way we can to serve the families that could not be served on Friday due to the outage. I am scheduling a conference call at 11:30 today to give us an opportunity to hear from you about the impact of the incident, your strategies for serving those turned away on Friday and your ideas for ways that we can help you. I have invited Bob Ferguson, Chief Information Officer for the Department of Public Health to join the call to share whatever information he has about the incident. If you are unable to join the call, please email any information you want to share to me or contact your regional advisor. Again, I am very sorry that this outage occurred. I know that it was extremely difficult for your staff and for the participants and it will present additional challenges in an already challenging month.

Linnea Sallack, MPH, RD, Chief
WIC Nutrition Division

Public Health spokesman Al Lundeen told The State Worke that after Sallack sent this e-mail, the department determined that Furlough Friday didn't have an impact on what caused the system failure or its eventual repair.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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