Civitas Review

Digital Disasters Plague State Agencies


Two big computer snafus in state government should be a warning to public officials everywhere: Stop trying to do too much!

According to WRAL:

North Carolina’s Medicaid billing system was so dysfunctional it costs doctors time, money and patients, according to a class action lawsuit filed by a group of medical providers Thursday. The suit alleges the state Department of Health and Human Services and some of its computer services providers were negligent in developing and implementing a new Medicaid claims tracking system, known as NCTracks. Doctors from Cumberland, Nash, New Hanover, Robeson and Wake counties are part of the suit and claim "NCTracks has been a disaster, inflicting millions of dollars in damages upon North Carolina’s Medicaid providers.”

Meanwhile, according to the news outlet, another state agency had to pull the plug on its own digital renovation scheme:

North Carolina has stopped development of a multimillion-dollar tax collection computer system, and Department of Revenue officials say they will start over and re-bid the entire project. The information technology system, which had been in the works for five years, is the latest to come up short of the state’s expectations, although it’s unclear exactly what caused the department to pull the plug. The system was being built by the same company responsible for the defect-riddled rollout of the federal website associated with the Affordable Care Act.

BTW, "come up short of the state’s expectations" is bureaucrat-speak for "this whole project was a nightmare. We'd be better of junking this horror show and starting over."

And, that's right, the project was being handled by CGI, infamous for the bungled website. Partisan finger-pointing is sure to ensue, but both projects began under the Perdue administration, and are now in the lap of the McCrory administration.

The real lesson is that government just can't handle such projects. It's not so much the technology, but what technology demands. To work, new digital systems must be implemented speedily. The workforce must be highly motivated, and leadership must be bold and decisive. Creativity is essential.  In the end, customer service is paramount. None of these qualities can be found in most government operations.

Technology also  can't rescue government projects that are fundamentally flawed. The real lesson: Governments shouldn't try to do so much. In NC Tracks and Medicaid, the government is trying to micromanage health care, perhaps the most complex facet of human life. Medicaid is badly flawed, and a new computer system can't change that. Reform of Medicaid must come first.

The Revenue Department must administer tax laws of mind-boggling complexity. Technology can't change that. The real answer is a much simpler tax code.

Simplifying what government does is not an attack on government, as liberals would have it; simplifying what government does is the only way to allow it to perform those functions it should have.

(Hat tip to Carolina Plott Hound for the above news items.)

Surprise! Crony Obama to Give More of Other People's Money to Cronies


President Obama visited Raleigh yesterday to announce still more crony corporatism. The President announced that state and federal governments came to an agreement with several rent-seeking corporations to confiscate tens of millions of taxpayer dollars (were we asked to consent to fund this "public-private partnership"?) to prop up industries apparently incapable of succeeding without taxpayer handouts.

Or as the N&O put it:

Instead, the consortium of five universities and 18 companies represents a bet by government and industry that electronic technology used in modern manufacturing is on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough and needs a governmental push to get it across the finish line.

Interesting choice of words there when they say "bet." Of course, none of the politicians patting themselves on the back for making this "bet" is staking any of their own money. If this emerging technology is such a valuable commodity, then why doesn't Obama put his own money at risk and invest?

Naturally, big-time lobbyist and Obama supporter Cree will get a slice of this taxpayer handout.

Yet another example of the corporatist policies "progressives" love: big business in bed with bigger government, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

Good of the Community – or Pulling the Race Card?


Last night in Rocky Mount,  the City Council had an open meeting and heard several petitions from local residents. In the following clip (0:00 – 3:53), Lige Daughtridge, a local business leader , presents an argument for more hearings about the proposed Rocky Mount Event Center. Daughtridge is part of a local group called the Community Council that was formed to inform citizens about issues such as the Event Center. Points of concern included the amount of money being spent on studies for the event center and whether or not more opinions from the community should be heard. The question left on the table was: Would an Event Center in Rocky Mount be the best use of city resources?

What happens on the video from 8:34 – 10:38 may startle you. Andre Knight, a City Councilman and arrestee at “Witness Wednesday,” began to question Daughtridge’s motives for raising concerns about the Event Center. The main point Knight presented was that the questioning arose “because of the makeup of the Council” and that there is an African American City Manager. While looking through all the arguments against the event center, there is no mention of the demographic makeup of Rocky Mount.

Was the Councilman looking out for the good of the community – or pulling the race card? Check out the video and decide for yourself.

New Legislative Committee to Study Impact of Obamacare


House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger yesterday afternoon issued a joint release announcing the formation of a new legislative study committee to evaluate the impact of Obamacare on North Carolina. The results from the committee's investigation could prove quite interesting.

Here is the release:

RALEIGH, N.C. –House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) announced today the formation of a Joint Legislative Study Committee to investigate the impacts of the Affordable Care Act on North Carolina.

The committee is being formed to explore the real-world impacts that the Affordable Care Act is having on North Carolina’s economy and citizens through disruptions in the insurance marketplace, dropped coverage for families and higher premiums without improved access to providers.

“Given the steps we have taken over the last three years to reduce taxes and regulations on working North Carolinians, it’s important to get to the bottom of how Obamacare impacts our state’s economy and citizens on a daily basis. This committee will delve deeply into the problems Obamacare has caused to the health insurance marketplace and to our economy as businesses and individuals absorb the costs,” said Tillis and Berger.

Members serving on the committee as well as the first meeting date will be announced in the coming weeks.

How to Avoid a Public Records Request (A Government Primer)


Since the 1960s, so-called “sunshine laws” have helped to shine the light of public scrutiny into the dark corridors of government. Under state and federal law, any citizen can request documents that are made or kept by government agencies. Open records are vital to our government. They are an invaluable tool for keeping government officials accountable.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop government agencies from trying to get around the law and keep the public in the dark. Just this week, the U.S. Navy accidentally sent a reporter the Navy’s detailed strategy for stonewalling his public records request. The internal memo included several pending FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. For each entry, Navy officials had written helpful advice to their public affairs officers:

I would recommend negotiating with the requester…Josh can help with crafting the language…

Recommend that you provide the requester with an estimate, as I can see the search and review, possible redactions, will be very costly. This may encourage the requester to “narrow the scope.”

This one is specific enough that we may be able to deny.

The sad thing is that this approach is all too common in government. Although public officials pay lip service to transparency, their actions show otherwise. Civitas files public records requests quite frequently, and it is the rare respondent who acts promptly and correctly in accordance with the law. There is an elaborate dance, which often features one or more of the following:

  • The runaround: Oh, sorry, this is the wrong place! You’ve got to talk to Jim in another department. What’s that? You already talked to him? He said to talk to us? Well, that’s just not true. Try talking to Jennifer.
  • The delay: Yes, we have received your request. Yes, it was sent three months ago. We are in contact with our public affairs people. They will advise us when it is completed.
  • The office lawyer: You asked me for every report from the past month. I interpreted your use of the word “every” to mean “some.” Perhaps you are unaware that this is an accepted definition?
  • The accountant: According to our calculations, the cost of responding to your request will be approximately $200,000. Where shall I send the bill?
  • The cricket: *Silence*

These tactics by government are frustrating, and intentionally so. When it comes to open records, sometimes government acts like a small child who would rather throw an hour-long tantrum rather than pick up a toy off the ground. But in the end, the response must always be the same as a parent’s: Be patient, and don’t let up until the child does what he is supposed to do.