IT Politics

            Of course, the fiasco of the Affordable Care Act website last year is on everyone’s mind. It now has refocused the opposition’s attention from eliminating the law entirely to “over” regulating it on account of that failure (ironic in that it comes from folks who otherwise push for de regulation). Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative, 30 years in the making and totally IT dependent, has yet to successfully conduct a spontaneous, unanticipated test. Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA also springs to mind, though this is not a failure of information technology but rather a “success” of information technology, especially considering the ongoing construction of the huge new facility in Utah to expand this (in)security success. Target has also reappeared in the news with revelations that even more customer information was obtained from its credit card transactions than initially reported. One TV news program cited that now 1 in 4 Americans are affected. UPS/FedEx also failed Santa at Christmas time with IT projected “guaranteed” delivery dates. Closer to home we have the recent failure of the Ohio BMV’s operating system for issuing/renewing ID cards (what some say ought to be needed for voting), driver’s licenses, etc. Whether that “glitch” has been worked out by this time is not known. Likewise, though officially Ohio’s online Medicaid application site is working “just fine”, there are some reports that for home computer users without the latest and fastest upgrades, it is not. Often we read of legal, law enforcement, or local government failures attributed to things that fell through the cracks of an IT system employed.


            Analysis looks at these and many other such “systemic” instances of failure that appear in the news and asks “Why does the inadequacy of the federal health care website receive such incredible scrutiny?” All of these are mega information/user interaction systems. Many operate at less than 100%. Some are outright failures. Taken as a whole, the reliance on such systems to deliver product and services, they all have the IT component in common. Yet the public relations “spin” is that they have nothing in common – this is a commercial criminal invasion, this is a political disaster, that one is a minor “insignificant” glitch, etc. depending on who is running the program for whom. Analysis would like to consider that all of them, perhaps, stumble because they outstrip the expectations “built in” to their deployment. The systems are being asked to fulfill tomorrow’s dreams with yesterday’s technology (technology is the solution to all our problems, whatever they may be). This, at least, appears to be especially the case with what the NSA is doing in that they are racing to fulfill even greater abilities to utilize systems that are not even here today but are projected to be. The focus on the political usefulness of some of these failures displaces the reality that, like other aspects of infrastructure (highways and bridges, water and sewer, utility delivery, etc.), IT likewise is bound and limited by what is available only today, and not by what it can promise for tomorrow. After all, we still are not commuting in yesterday’s anticipated flying cars though today we are promised they will drive themselves tomorrow.

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