IT and the Government

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article entitled Government at Work – Ain’t It Grand?, about the inefficiency of any government activity.  Although I’ll have to admit the Department of Motor Vehicles has cleaned up its act and made things move along more smoothly, I stand by my words.

Recently, I read even more disturbing stories which reveal how incompetent the government is at almost everything it touches – and with a big price to the taxpayer.

Here’s the perfect example.  There’s a federal jobs program called USAJob.gov which matched openings with applicants.  Back in 2004, the feds outsourced USAJobs.gov to Monster.com.  If you’re unfamiliar with Monster.com, it’s the market leader in online job search sites.  But in a brilliant move, eighteen months ago, the Obama Office of Personnel Management decided the feds could do a better job and spent about $6 million developing a new in-house version of the site.

Well, needless to say, the whole thing is a disaster.  The volumes of requests crushed the government servers, slowed down the system and locked out thousands of applicants.  Monster.com has “graciously” offered to host free job postings for federal agencies for a month as the government reboots its “improved” website.

My nephew who is an IT director at a very large software company wasn’t surprised.  While I don’t fully understand how all this stuff works, he explained a lot to me and, even as simple-minded as I am when it comes to the workings of the internet, even I scratched my head at the government’s stupidity.

Monster.com has spent untold amounts of money and time on their site to make it was it is.  So what did the government think was wrong with how Monster.com was handling its website that it believed it could do better?  How did the Obama administration think they could improve on it?  God only knows how much all this is costing the taxpayers!

Here’s another example.  The government apparently has an electronic green-card lottery system in place.  This year, about 15 million people submitted entries to the lottery, which offers a quick path to permanent U.S. residence for 50,000 people selected randomly.  Well, a recent report released by the State Department’s Inspector General’s office revealed a major screw-up, which affected thousands of the 22,000 people who had been notified they were in line for permanent U.S.residency through the annual May lottery.  Apparently, the snafu resulted from a failure to test a new computer program wreaking havoc with people’s lives.  Government officials weren’t aware of the problems “until after it failed and results had to be voided.”  The computer glitch caused 90% of the winners to be selected from applications received on the first two days, instead of from the entire 30-day registration period.

(By the way, the fact that 15 million people from around the world submitted entries for permanent U.S. residency should be startling news to those morons who think America is such a rotten place.  Maybe we can trade some of those losers for some of the 15 million people who would be thrilled to be part of the 99% in theUnited States.)

Recently, I heard of a municipality that bought a software package that must “go live” on January 1, 2012.  The municipality bought this very expensive software package for its financial, payroll and HR systems way in advance in order to be sure it’s tested properly and all systems were be working perfectly by the first of the year.  Unfortunately, it hired a consulting firm at the lowest bid (already a bad sign) that didn’t know what they were doing.  Everything got behind, and now if they can’t go live by the first of the year, the damages are incalculable.  The municipality now has to cut corners because it’s committed to the January 1st deadline.  In order to make that deadline, they’re not sufficiently testing the system to ensure that everything will work as expected.  We’ll see in January if people are receiving their paychecks.

In January 2008, King County (Seattle) announced that after approximately 2 to 3 years and $38 million, the County’s SAP initiative “blew up” creating a “political maelstrom.”  (My nephew decided I’d heard enough about IT, SAP, and the rest when he saw my eyes glaze over.)

More horror stories about the government’s IT failures, including the FBI, IRS and problems with the southern border fence, can be read here if you have the stomach for all this waste of money.

My nephew assures me that private companies have problems too.  As far as I’m concerned, private companies aren’t using my money.  But that’s just me.

From a professional’s point of view, analyst Tom Foristell, “software implementations fail for a variety of causes and factors in both the private and public sectors.  Failed government ERP software implementations often exhibit strong negative organizational cultures, turf wars and deep rooted politics which collectively challenge even the most well managed ERP implementations. While software technical challenges generally play a contributing role in implementation failures, the catastrophes are exacerbated by inexcusable executive leadership, insufficient project management and denial of the facts.”

When it’s not your money, you just don’t care.  That’s my opinion of the government.

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
Author website: http://www.idontgetit.us
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  • Teddi

    Yes, when it is not your money that you earned, it is much easier to misuse and waste it. I have seen time and time again that when people are given something for free, they don’t appreciate it to the same degree as when they had to put something into it. The government’s use of our money is no different.

  • LockeSmith

    I know that private sector companies have similar horror stories and sometimes for the same reasons. It strikes me a the sheerest stupidity to try to manufacture something that’s already being done very well by someone you could outsource to (Monster.com), yet big business and big government both suffer from Not Invented Here.
    What really surprises me is how often there are no repercussions for a job execrably done. We continue to have such sterling examples of efficiency as the USPS and Medicare. The only thing I tend to celebrate in it’s inefficiency is Congress. The less they can do, the better.

  • Ron F

    I do not know if the IT problems government has are any greater than the private sector. It seems that whenever new systems are installed in either there are problems. A lot of large financial institutions have lost confidential information of customers. If the private sector is so efficient, why was it bailed out in 2008 and why has the Federal Reserve continued to prop up banks. I understand the argument that in government it is not their money but in the private sector it is not the individual employees’ money as well. All institutions have waste. I am not sure it is an issue of whose money it is. I am not sure it is possible to quantify whether there is more waste in government as opposed to the private sector. My problem with the federal government is I think it performs far too many functions that it is not authorized to do under our Constitution. Finally, the fact that people criticize this country does not mean they think it is a rotten place. We criticize the country and its institutions and it does not mean we do not love it. The fact that people on the other side of the debate criticize the country does not mean they do not love it just as much or are just as patriotic. I do not think that conservatives, liberals, Republicans or Democrats have a monopoly on patriotism.

  • wally

    It appears that Obama and his crew wanted the government to do the IT work so they could put more political influence into the project. I’m sure they know they can not compete with most private companies. It is sad that most citizens do not recognize this fact. Many keep thinking that the government is their savior which is not.

  • Bill Hurdle

    Having worked for state government after I retired from private industry (to their credit they were willing to hire an old man albeit at a very sub standard wage when private industry wouldn’t touch me), I saw first hand the causes of inefficiency. First, the politics in government dwarf the politics in private industry – NOBODY gets promoted based on competence, it’s all connections. As a result, the skill levels are very mediocre and there is no consideration for improvement. All changes stem from either the creation or preservation of fiefdoms. Most of the management efforts are aimed at either actions to escape blame for failures or implementing a structure that insulates them from responsibility.

  • Ken Hansen

    Large software projects do not exist in a vacuum – they almost always involve massive re-organizations of users and responsibilities, which few in government bureaucracies can accept/support.

    If you want to know about real horror stories in government IT, you need look no further than our Air Traffic Control system (based on computers that haven’t been produced in over 20 years last I looked) and our IRS tax processing programs, that have been in need of an overhaul for decades, but the code base is so unstructured and poorly documented that the effort is nearly impossible.

    Remember when California wanted to implement a pay freeze, but IT workers needed months o change the payroll system and test it? That’s another sign of a system that has outlived it’s useful life and become problem, not a solution.

  • Gena Taylor

    Mrs. Salazar – if your nephew made the above understandable to you, can I borrow him for awhile? I do understand the part about the gov’t has money (our’s) and throws it around recklessly, but beyond that, when you get to the various software programs, etc, other than the part about how they don’t have people working with them who really know what they are doing and aren’t willing to put the work into making the programs work, I’m pretty much at loss.
    I do understand that private companies make more of an effort, cause otherwise they go broke and lose their company, income, jobs and such, and gov’t employees, if they fail, just get moved around to ruin another agency. An example of that is the DOJ clowns who apparently allowed Fast and Furious to continue and who, when outed, were not fired, but promoted and moved to DC. The same, I’m sure happens with other gov’t jobs and agencies. Wasn’t that the basis of the Peter Principle – that people get promoted until they get to a position they are incapable of doing the work required?

  • Glen Stambaugh

    So many never learn the lesson that a private company must do it better to survive, government agencies have all our $$ and don’t need to get it right to survive.