Detroit IT systems 'fundamentally broken': city's tech officer

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 08, 2014 2:48 PM

By Lisa Lambert

DETROIT (Reuters) - Detroit relies on antiquated and dilapidated information technology for basic city administration, which puts citizens' safety at risk, makes simple administrative tasks impossible, and creates opportunities for security breaches, the city's information officer testified at a bankruptcy hearing on Monday.

The second week of the landmark trial began with supporters of the city's plan for paring debt and exiting the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy making a case the city urgently needs critical improvements and a means to pay for them in order to fully function.

Beth Niblock, who was hired as Detroit's chief information officer after she assessed the city's technology as part of a White House-appointed team, frequently used the words "atrocious" and "unreliable" to describe the computers and network that the city uses for everything from managing email to supporting fire stations.

"It is deficient," she said. "It is fundamentally broken, or beyond fundamentally broken. In some cases fundamentally broken would be good."

The mainframe computer and operating system the city uses are both so old that they are no longer updated by their developers and have security vulnerabilities, she said. The mainframe, too, relies on Unisys, an out-of-date coding language.

Meanwhile, workers' desktop computers have outlasted their life spans, with many taking 10 minutes to start up, and contain different versions of software - effectively blocking workers from sharing documents and communicating. Niblock added that on her fourth day at work the personal information of emergency workers was hacked.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes must decide if Detroit's plan to shed about $7 billion of its $18 billion in debt and other obligations is fair and feasible. The plan also includes revenue and spending measures, such as investing $151.7 million in technology.

Detroit plans to call 26 witnesses in support of the plan, including the city's state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, and Mayor Mike Duggan, during the trial, which is scheduled to last until Oct. 17.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; editing by Matthew Lewis)