March 28, 2014
By: Kelly Diamond, Publisher
I was chastised on the thread of “An American Warning” for advising folks that the treatment of the Native Americans is how we can expect to be treated as we socialize necessary services like health insurance or care.
I was told I was “fear mongering”. Fear is based on ignorance and it’s often experienced by people who don’t know what to do or feel they have no recourse. Usually, in a horror film, people start to get scared when the slasher is approaching, and the potential victims of said slasher are stuck in a cupboard with nowhere to go… as he gets closer and walks by that cupboard, the victims’ angst grows as does the viewers’. Why? Because their demise grows increasingly more inevitable.
That’s fear. The angst begotten by the inevitability of bad things happening.
While I absolutely believe the government’s failure is an inevitability and the collapse of the dollar is a given, it hasn’t happened just yet to everyone. So for those who still haven’t been steamrolled, you do still have options. That’s not fear mongering. That’s addressing an issue of concern and likewise providing a solution… or a means of escaping.
Perhaps the Native Americans are just an exception. Maybe our government is otherwise operating at ruthlessly efficient speeds! I mean, the roll-out of Healthcare.gov was epic, right?
“But ALL new tech based things have glitches! Get real!” you might be saying.
We’re in 2014. Technology is the new normal. When I think of all the tech based companies… or more impressively, all the large tech based corporations whose whole existence relies on technology running well for a far larger population than a few citizens in the United States… I can’t help but feel confident that such innovations have taken a strong and stable hold in our everyday lives.
Then I look at the government, and wonder if I didn’t just step out of a 1985 DeLorean only to stumble into 1970!
I want to highlight the contrast between the private sector and the public sector here. That while in the private world, the notion of literally “balancing a checkbook” is going the way of the do-do, there are parts of the government that still have to physically find a file of papers, and run them from here to there. AND while there are sectors within the government that have the technological ability to trace your every move, there are other parts of the government that are on par with the automotive industry of Cuba.
Kind of a crap shoot, wouldn’t you agree?
When you approach your government for services you ostensibly paid for or paid into, which one are you going to get? The DoD/NSA/DHS level of technological service? OR some card-catalogue and fiche file operation?
Well, in the last installment, I gave the example of the Native American. This time, I’m offering up the example of retirees of the U.S. Federal Government.
About a week ago, the Washington Post did an extensive story on a little place in Pennsylvania called “The Mine”, which is charged with administering and processing the retirement funds of retired federal employees.
About an hour north of Pittsburgh, is a government office that runs in a subterranean facility about 230 feet beneath the surface. This is not some safe-house for important people to hide in the event of a terror attack. It’s not even where the NSA or CIA conduct their sneaky clandestine shenanigans. It’s the place where government retirement magic happens! And by magic, I mean painfully slow paper pushing.
Why would any federal operation locate themselves in a Pennsylvanian cave? Well, there are 600 employees who work on federal government retirement payouts and processing. An understandable number, given the government’s propensity to over-hire for any and all trite tasks. But that everything must be done manually, means you need 600 pairs of hands working diligently on processing the retirements of every federal employee to prevent falling behind any further than three months.
“The staff working in the mine has increased by at least 200 people in the past five years. And the cost of processing each claim has increased from $82 to $108, as total spending on the retirement system reached $55.8 million.”
Oh, did you skim past the part where it’s all manually done with physical files? Which means you need a place to keep ALL that paperwork. Hence, the mine.
This process is thirty-seven years old. And more money is being spent to just keep up with the 1977 rate of processing retirements. The government has grown considerably since then, so there are more retirees to process… there is also a thing called “double-dipping” which means a federal employee retires from one federal job, and then takes up another and retires from it.
The need for automation was recognized thirty years ago… but, when the government tries to automate things, things get a little dicey. The most recent and obvious being healthcare.gov. But look at voting… the one place where you’d WANT to keep the paperwork to prove the votes cast, that’s where the government decided to digitize. Now dead people and fictitious characters register to vote! Also, automation in the government’s processes has led to dead people collecting social security checks.
Thus far, over $100 MILLION has been spent trying to modernize the system and introduce some automation. And it’s been a $100 MILLION failure.
Here’s the cliff notes of the process:
- Retiree submits their paperwork to the agency from which they are retiring. That agency processes things fairly quickly and even rushes the packet off to Pennsylvania with two-day service. (Good start, right?)
- Folks in the “mine” receive the package and must match it up with any existing files they might have on hand. That requires some digging… no pun intended… in the mine’s EIGHT file “caverns”. The good news is, in 85% of cases, the files can be looked up on digital files that were scanned into a computer! The bad news is, it has to be printed out again because a physical copy needs to be put in a physical folder on a physical file.
- Once all the related files are found, another team of people make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. If a form is missing or a form is there but missing a signature, that file freezes. This could take 5 minutes… it could take several weeks or months. It all depends how fast the file can be completed.
- After all the digital stuff has been printed out, it get reentered into a computer line by line.
- Finally someone checks the data that was entered for accuracy. IF it was, then the retiree gets their FULL check. If not… well… let’s not even go there…
“That process now takes, on average, at least 61 days. That’s the same amount of time it took in 1977, according to a federal audit from that time. Many state retirement systems, which also handle large loads of employees, do it much faster. Florida takes 47 days. The California teachers’ retirement system takes 23. Texas takes two.”
The success rate of federal I.T. endeavors is abysmal. I mean, it’s just astonishingly LOW. What would your guess be? Even with all that you’ve just read… go on… guess… If you guessed a 10% success rate, you would be WRONG. Try 5%. While I want to believe that the 5% success rate is reserved for when lives are hanging in the balance, it’s not, considering the abject failure of the federal government’s administration of Veteran and Native American health benefits.
So now, in addition to the federal government being a total welsh when it comes to honoring everything from the Constitution to Treaties with the Native American, the I.T. bone fides of the feds don’t exactly conjure up feelings of faith.
I don’t think it’s so preposterous to suggest that things like healthcare and retirement are too precious and vital to individuals to entrust the government with them. I think people should have healthcare. I think people should have retirement plans. I just REALLY don’t think the government is the one who should be brokering, administering, processing or in any way handling those things because they ARE just that important!
Let me put it another way: Let’s say, you were looking for a contractor to do some work on your home. Let’s say you decided to read the reviews of their work on Yelp or Angie’s List. And let’s say you found some reviews that were down-right terrible!
They were never on time. They ruined someone’s floors and wouldn’t fix it. They busted a pipe and wouldn’t pay for the water damage. They took twice as long as they said it would take, and the estimate was several thousand dollars off from what they initially said it would be. They left a mess with their lunches everywhere. And after they were done, another contracted was needed to fix what they broke.
Would you hire that contractor? And would you call those who wrote the poor reviews “fear mongerers”? Not likely… on both counts. Well, consider this a review of the federal government’s services. A really poor one. You can do better, and considering how hard you’ve presumably worked for your money, you deserve better.