Capitol Alert

How five California agencies plead for money: Our clinic has rodents, our people could die

This Thursday March 6, 2014 photo shows the setting sun behind pumpjacks operating at the Inglewood oil fields in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles.
This Thursday March 6, 2014 photo shows the setting sun behind pumpjacks operating at the Inglewood oil fields in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles. AP

For a state agency lobbying Gov. Jerry Brown for more money, it can help to state one’s case in pleading – sometimes alarming – terms.

The downside, from a public relations point of view, is that the case gets made in writing.

Following are five of 492 budget change proposals made recently by California state agencies and reflected in the $170.6 billion state spending plan Brown proposed last week.

Oil and gas regulators need training to prevent death

Perhaps no California agency has been more maligned in recent years than the Department of Conservation, whose shortcomings overseeing the state’s oil industry have included letting oil drillers inject wastewater into wells in protected aquifers.

One basic problem, according to the department’s budget request: The state doesn’t have a standard training program for regulators in its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

Officials requested funding for two permanent positions and $1.3 million to develop and conduct a comprehensive training program.

“Regulatory staff are relied upon to bring educational knowledge and oil and gas geologic or engineering experience to the job, but are not provided specific job-related training on DOGGR’s field standards of health and safety and regulatory functions,” the department said. “This method of training is not standardized, it is not measurable, and it is extremely challenging to establish accountability for errors in the field.”

Training regulators is necessary, the department said, “to prevent costly errors, injuries, and the highest cost of all, death.”

Controversial fire fee hard to collect, and the phone keeps ringing

A fire prevention fee levied on many rural California property owners was controversial when it was approved in 2011, and the state Board of Equalization, which collects the money, is having a hard time dealing with the fallout.

Or what the board called “negative public sentiment against the fee.”

The board asked for $1.4 million to address a fee-collection workload it said was “vastly underestimated.” The protest rate is high compared to other tax and fee programs, the board said, and people who call in response to a notice or bill keep board employees on the phone for a long time (10 to 20 minutes per call).

The board isn’t used to these conditions. It generally administers tax and fee programs “associated with business entities or business operations, not private citizens who may not have the same level of expertise or knowledge” as others, the board said in its request.

One state employee, one month, 300 hours of overtime

Raging wildfires in California in recent years have stretched the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection thin, and not just on the front lines.

In its budget request, the department asked for $1.7 million to address what it said is insufficient staffing for its public information and education responsibilities. Hiring more public information officers, it said, will make sure the media are “provided with appropriate and timely information.”

Even relatively small incidents, such as the Junction Fire in Madera County, require several dedicated public information officers, the department said. Incidents in larger media markets, such as Los Angeles or San Diego, can take 30 information officers or more.

It can get so busy that during the Butts Fire in Napa County in July 2014, one public information officer received 78 phone calls in one day, the department said.

In that single month, the employee accrued more than 300 hours of overtime.

Prison medical facility features germy medical equipment and black widow spiders

The state prison system uses inmates to provide janitorial services at most of its facilities, but when it opened a prison medical facility in Stockton in 2013, it turned to civil service janitorial staff.

It didn’t work. The number of janitors was too small, the California Correctional Health Care Services said in its funding request, and the place got so messy the facility risked losing its license.

In a report attached to the funding request, auditors provided photographs that “depict the common theme of medical equipment throughout the facility that was used for direct patient care having large quantities of dust and debris on them.”

Those items were tested and “consistently were found to be at unacceptable levels for the presence of germs, bacteria and microorganisms,” the report said.

In addition, the report noted dirty toilets, rodent feces, cockroaches and black widow spiders.

Health Care Services requested $6.4 million for the rest of this budget year and $12.1 million for the upcoming budget year to hire an outside janitorial service.

It rejected “the obvious solution” of using prison inmates, the request said, because it would require giving more than 250 health care beds to healthy janitorial inmates, defeating the purpose of the facility.

State computer systems vulnerable to attack

State policy requires California agencies and departments to have an assessment of vulnerabilities in their computer networks every other year.

But according to the California Military Department, that isn’t being done as often as required. And there’s reason to believe such assessments might turn up interesting things if they were.

As of January 2015, the department said, its Cyber Network Defense Team – which was created as a pilot program to assess cyber vulnerabilities across state government – had “discovered and provided remediation plans for over 659,000 vulnerabilities on state computer systems and networks, greatly reducing the risk of successful attack/penetration of those networks and systems.”

The report, citing figures from the California Information Security Office, said that from January to June 2015, more than 1,500 cyber-related incidents were reported involving California computer systems.

The Military Department itself, after reviewing a sample of almost 15,000 samples, found nearly 34 possible means of intrusion per computer system on state networks. For comparison, the department said, “the Department of Defense considers any computer with more than four vulnerabilities to be compromised and immediately removes it from the network.”

The Military Department requested an increase in reimbursement authority to $1.4 million from $774,000 for staff and equipment in the department’s Cyber Network Defense Team.

Approving the request, the department said, would allow its special computer team “to continue to effectively harden California government networks from cyber attack.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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