Why is government IT so awful, Part III

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Another reader, a government IT professional, emails:


The reader email you posted that mentions webdev in straight html is dead-on, specifically noting how buttons cannot be used because screen readers cannot interpret them. For more information on this specific situation you need to familiarize yourself with Section 508: http://www.section508.gov/

Basically it is a 1998 law that requires all web information be accessible by all people (I'm paraphrasing, of course). Because it was written before many gov agencies even had web presences it is terribly outdated. It also terrifies web developers and keeps sites looking plain and worthless. Talented web developers avoid gov work as a result, and IT pros who haven't updated their skill sets in over a decade have permanent job security.

s for agencies to work on, but something that must be covered by A RULE.  You cannot trust the Social Security Administration to care whether disabled people have access, so you have to mandate it.  And if that clumsily drawn mandate cuts off ten other features that would help people access social security information, well . . . DIDN'T YOU SEE THERE'S A RULE????!!!

At my agency we are not nearly as IT incompetent as other agencies. We all have new blackberries or iPhones, laptops with full remote capabilities, etc... I have a gov-issued blackberry and iPhone, Mac and PC laptops, and use the latest software for my work. But I'm not a web-developer, I'm a project manager.

Private web development is far--far, far, far, FAR--from perfect, of course.  But government IT is worse than, IMHO, it has to be.  It's not, as some conservatives would have it, that government professionals are inherently incompetent.  It's that government systems treat them as if they are incompetent.  That a) selects for the actually incompetent and b) insures that change or creativity are near-impossible.  

This is because we treat every issue not as problem

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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