As the Obamacare website continues it’s botched roll-out (in November HHS reported that 30-40% of the back end isn’t even built yet), I’m reminded of the massive gulf between what we see of government agencies on prime time TV and the apparent reality. Just watch a few episodes of “CSI,” “NCIS,” “The Blacklist,” or “Hawaii 5-0” to see just how sophisticated the government computer systems are portrayed. Distorted, massively out of focus pictures can be instantly corrected, the most trivial personal information from decades ago can be found, and the location of government operatives can be pinpointed within a few inches anywhere in the world. Background information, police reports – just about anything can be accessed at the touch of a button. In fact, I believe one of the reasons Americans are so shocked at the HHS website disaster (It’s cost more than $1 billion so far), is what they see in prime time. The media has far more influence than we think, so it is realistic to think the viewing public assumes that although these drama shows are fiction, they’re at least showing us what the government is capable of doing with technology?
I think perhaps.
But the bubble has been popped. As Peter Schuck writes in the Wall Street Journal: “Dysfunctional information systems are endemic in the federal government. Officials’ incessant talk about living in a 21st-century information society that can generate “big data” to help solve our problems diverts attention from the stubborn truth: Many government agencies and programs operate in an informational stone age.” From HHS, to gun control laws, to Immigration, to social security and more, the government has done an incredibly poor job of using technology. (Just pay a visit to your local DMV.) Schuck goes on about government managed technology, “Earlier this year the Government Accountability Office reported that the Agriculture Department paid $22 million to more than 3,400 crop-insurance policyholders who had been dead for at least two years.” And “Social Security and Veterans Administration disability programs are rife with fraud.”
And that doesn’t even begin the comparison with the private sector. While the White House is bragging that the site handled 29,000 people who signed up online over a two day period in November, on Black Friday, Amazon.com handled 7.7 million transactions online in a single day.
I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes at HHS, but while the tech-team at The Blacklist is portrayed as using technology to catch super criminals around the globe, it appears the reality may be that the Obamacare tech team might be working on folding tables with MS-DOS.