FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

It Doesn’t Compute

Only the most callous would refuse to sympathize with the United States government. That’s because few of my readers have not at one time or another found themselves totally frustrated by the computer and dismayed that the machine on which they squandered hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, insists on demonstrating that it knows more than they and is reluctant to share its secrets with its owner. We have now been reminded, once again, that whether one spends thousands or billions, the computer can work its black magic on its proprietor.

At the risk of repeating myself I must preface this week’s news with a reminder that it was seven years ago that the IRS confessed that it had spent more than $4 billion on what it described as a modern computer system. The joy that news brought to taxpayers (whose fondest wish is for efficient tax collection) was quickly dispelled by Arthur Gross, an Assistant Commissioner of Internal Revenue, who said that the system did not work in what he called “the real world.” (The notion that there is something called the “real world” and some place else where the IRS lives found ready acceptance among readers.) Mr. Gross, said that even though the systems were dysfunctional, the IRS was “wholly dependent on them” to collect the $1.4 trillion that the government needed to function. As a result, said Mr. Gross, the system would have to be scrapped. Three years later there was more disappointing news.

A report issued by the U.S. General Accounting office in 2000 disclosed “pervasive” management flaws that included (but was not limited to) hiring folks to collect our taxes who had criminal records.

Responding to those disclosures and a number of other problems at the agency, Bob Wenzel, then the Deputy IRS Commissioner of Operations said that “many of the solutions to the IRS’ problems can only be found in new or enhanced automated systems” which he said would take years to bring on line. When he said years he apparently meant many years given the fact that it had already been three years since the first revelation. Now there is even more distressing news. Forget about taxes and think safety.

The FBI is having the same problem the IRS had. The good news that accompanied the bad is that whereas the IRS threw away more than $4 billion the FBI has only wasted $170 million on the part of the program in question. That is chicken feed. According to reports the FBI is about to scrap a $170 million computer overhaul that was intended to develop a case-file system.

According to the New York Times the point of the new system was to permit agents to obtain “instant access to FBI databases allowing speedier investigations and better integration of information. . . . ” The overhaul was in response to the need to improve the campaign against terrorism inspired by 9/11. The FBI says, not in so many words that the new program has been a disaster. Not that it’s given up. For a paltry $2 million it has hired an expert to see what went wrong and whether anything is salvageable.

Although it’s kind of surprising that among those receiving the $170 million there was not an expert who could answer that kind of question, it’s reassuring that there is, somewhere in the world, an expert who can and the sleuths at the FBI have found him (her) and for only a couple million will have the question answered.

There have been a lot of comments from officialdom about the disclosures of the failure. Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the September 11 commission said: “It’s immensely disappointing to learn of this type of failure.” A senior F.B.I. official who for obvious reasons preferred not to be identified, briefed reporters on the debacle (my word not his). He said he’d not gotten what he envisioned from the project which seems like a bit of an understatement when you’re discussing a $170 million mistake. However, he wasn’t all gloom. He went on to say that the FBI “had a better understanding of its computer needs and limitations as a result of the project.

“The lesson we have learned from this $170 million” said he, “is invaluable.” Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has a somewhat different take on the whole affair. He said that the case-file system that the $170 million was supposed to produce was “a train wreck in slow motion.” He went on to suggest that: “Bringing the F.B.I.’s information technology into the 21st century should not be rocket science.” Of course not. It only spent $170 million. Rocket science as everyone knows, costs a lot more than that.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer and columnist based in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail