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posted by janrinok on Sunday March 23 2014, @01:07PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the welcome-to-the-1980s-again dept.

el_oscuro writes:

"In a bizarre twist to the usual failed government IT projects, the Washington Post reports:

Deep in an underground mine in Boyers, Pa., amid 28,000 file cabinets, government workers process the retirement files of federal employees. On paper. By hand. In 2014. This is one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government both for where it is and for what it does. Here, inside the caverns of an old Pennsylvania limestone mine, there are 600 employees of the Office of Personnel Management. Their task is nothing top-secret. It is to process the retirement papers of the government's own workers. But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper.

'The need for automation was clear in 1981,' said James W. Morrison Jr., who oversaw the retirement-processing system under President Ronald Reagan. In a telephone interview this year, Morrison recalled his horror upon learning that the system was all run on paper: 'After a year, I thought, God, my reputation will be ruined if we don't fix this.'"

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by bucc5062 on Sunday March 23 2014, @01:25PM

    by bucc5062 (699) on Sunday March 23 2014, @01:25PM (#19931)

    " Congress has made the federal retirement rules extremely complex. The center’s workers must verify and key in information that answers a huge range of questions: What were the retiree’s three years of highest salary? Was the retiree a firefighter? A military veteran? A cafeteria worker at the U.S. Capitol? What about part-time service?"

    Can you imagine congress, the ones who bark all the time about government waste, actually reviewing these rules, making the process more efficient so that a good system could be put into place? Hell no. Congress serves Congress, the rest be damned.

    Later in the article it talked about contractors. Why always contractors? Why cannot the government just friggin hire its own people to analyze, write, debug, test and implement a system. Lately nothing good has come from government contract work in the IT world. We the the People hire clerks, agents, and all sorts of specialists to perform government tasks. Why should IT be so different. At least (in part) there could be more accountability.

    --
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    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bigjimslade on Sunday March 23 2014, @03:39PM

      by bigjimslade (212) on Sunday March 23 2014, @03:39PM (#19940)

      ever work in govt or for govt people? having them 'manage' contractors is way way more efficient than having govt people actually doing the work. i mean, can you imagine govt workers doing IT work, and reporting to govt managers, too?

      i know of one govt IT person that was ordered to sit in his office (with pay) and not touch the computer for six months. it was to satisfy the bosses bosses boss that he was doing valuable work. when things blew up later, he was then allowed to touch a computer again.

      insane.
       

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    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23 2014, @05:59PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23 2014, @05:59PM (#19958)

      The center’s workers

      WTF already. Obviously Slashcode has trouble copy-pasting from some character encodings.

      But really? Do people really just shovel in the copy-pasta and hit the [PUBLISH TO THE WORLD] without previewing first? Or is there a Slashbug that makes this garbage look right in preview, and only fuck up after posting?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @12:22PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @12:22PM (#20173)

      Why always contractors? Why cannot the government just friggin hire its own people to analyze, write, debug, test and implement a system.

      Contractors reduce the Federal Payroll, which is one of the major measures of "Big Government." Seems like this started under Reagan - privatizing major functions of government, often by hiring back its own employees as contractors. The contractors, of course, cost twice as much and often have a management and profit layer on top of that, but it still reduces the Federal Payroll. Contractors also lack institutional memory and any sense of commitment to service or mission. You can argue that privatization reduces future pension costs, although with the transition to defined-contribution "TSP," the feds are already doing a good job of reducing pension liability.

      Give a congressperson a benchmark for Bad Thing, and they will find all manner of bad policies to reduce that benchmark.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by unitron on Sunday March 23 2014, @01:26PM

    by unitron (70) on Sunday March 23 2014, @01:26PM (#19932) Journal

    ...but horribly written--wandered all over the place before it ever got around to talking about what the article's supposed to be about.

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    • (Score: 1) by el_oscuro on Monday March 24 2014, @01:31AM

      by el_oscuro (1711) on Monday March 24 2014, @01:31AM (#20032)

      We are talking about the Washington Post. This classifies as a good article for them. At least it still better the New York Times...

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  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Bot on Sunday March 23 2014, @02:37PM

    by Bot (3902) on Sunday March 23 2014, @02:37PM (#19936) Journal

    you humans started doing some of our work. NOW you know how a database feels.

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    Account abandoned.
    • (Score: 1) by DECbot on Monday March 24 2014, @06:12PM

      by DECbot (832) on Monday March 24 2014, @06:12PM (#20403) Journal

      Amen.

      --
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  • (Score: 0, Offtopic) by n1 on Sunday March 23 2014, @04:03PM

    by n1 (993) on Sunday March 23 2014, @04:03PM (#19946) Journal

    I'm sure anyone who has indirect power to change this situation is at fault, congress who has the direct power is no doubt be held hostage by these omnipresent but vague people and institutions with indirect power.

    These same people will be the target of election campaigns by members of congress, who will pledge to remove the power from these people they are held hostage by and give it back to you! Not you as in us, you as in YOU! Not your neighbor who you don't like, or the college kids, just you, the normal middle class/age/weight fiscally responsible hard working person.

    I'll stop with the sarcastic cynicism now. I don't even know where I was going with this...

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by VLM on Sunday March 23 2014, @06:22PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 23 2014, @06:22PM (#19960)

    Its an example of bad journalism. Look at the claim:

    "But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper."

    Then look at the actual quotes, where most of the complaining is about other departments refusal to respond to queries. They quote a dude that it only takes an hour to process a problem free claim. The trouble is the long tail.

    They've got 100K retirements annually and 600 people working 2000 hours per year. They are only making on average about 10% progress thru a claim per hour because of pure dilbertism, not lack of a computer.

    If, magically, they could somehow process a "normal" claim instantly, and as per the quotes a normal claim takes an hour, and they get 100K claims per year, thats 100K-hrs per year saved (as if it could ever be instant, LOL). The problem is they've got 600 people times 2000 hours per year, or about 1.2 million person hours worked total. Of which a magic system could remove 0.1 million hours worked.

    I don't think 100K person hours per year can even keep up with running the IT infrastructure required, much less keep up with continuous changes in retirement laws and regs and policies. Especially when IT staff plus the hardware plus the electricity probably is equivalent on a person to person basis of ten times the cost of a claims secretary. Now you've only got 10K person hours, or roughly ... a five person IT team to do the whole thing from end user support all the way to DBA and security guys and the whole pointy haired boss thing. 5 people for 600 users is barely enough to keep the boxes clean of virii and replace mice and MAC (moves adds changes). And thats just to keep even. If you want to "show a financial improvement" you'd have to do the whole IT support and infrastructure with perhaps 1 or 2 people.

    They simply are not spending enough money on to make computerization worthwhile. Computerization, or lack thereof, simply doesn't matter.

    It would be like whining that the only problem with the US "Justice" system is they don't use enough iPads.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by sjames on Sunday March 23 2014, @07:33PM

      by sjames (2882) on Sunday March 23 2014, @07:33PM (#19972) Journal

      They could stand a few more modest improvements though. For example, skip the part about printing the digital records so someone can type them in at the next step.

      When a retirement is planned, they could get all the ducks in a row 2 or 3 months in advance so when tyhe day comes, they can just click the final OK.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @05:25AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24 2014, @05:25AM (#20091)

    As someone who works at a state retirement system, this article made me feel one hell of a lot better about where I work. At least we do everything on computers.

    And I can confirm that it's the damn exceptions, working for multiple state government agencies, or several un-retirements, that the legislature allows people to do, that slows down retirement processing. Oh, and the grandfathering -- we're really running up to five different retirement plans, depending on when someone was hired the first time, and each plan has it's own exceptions....

    I've often thought this is why democracies fail -- the attempts by different parties to swing any and all legislation to benefit their own group, leads to so many overlaps and contradictions that the government itself (even if run under low corruption conditions) will inevitably grind to a halt. Then a dictator takes over, and cleans out the cruft from the systems (usually via death camps, sadly).